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Arundhati [#Shortlisted]

“Pregnancy confirmed. 4 weeks. But something wrong. Arundhati refused to look at the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. She was sobbing. I suspect abuse.”

The stench in the courtroom is something that has never made me comfortable, yet in many ways I have begun not to hate it anymore. I have become a regular visitor to this place since past one year. I come here for her, and today it is the culmination of all that she has been fighting for. I witness the triumph. I sit vindicated, and so does she. At the witness box, she stands head held high and her face beaming with pride of a win. She looks at me every now and then, clamping the wooden bar, pressing her lips and nodding with a peaceful assurance. Her broad black eyes has a sparkle today that I missed all along. Clad in a white kurta and jeans, she stands across just a step away from winning a battle that she fought arduously against all odds, and with all her might. Who am I by the way? I am Dr. Manju Gupta, a gyneocologist, and the lady I just told you about is my patient Arundhati, Arundhati Sharma. And, here is Arundhati’s story.

Eighteen Months Back

I met Arundhati first time on the day of her wedding. She was marrying the eldest son of the Mishra’s, a close family friend. Mishra’s were quite reputed and affluent in their own rights. And, Atul Mishra, their eldest son, was a suave gentleman in every sense. Arundhati and Atul looked as if they were made for each other. People around just couldn’t stop raving. I too felt the spell. But, amidst all the perfection in glory, there was something amiss that irked me more than anything else- their status. Arundhati was the only daughter of Mr. Vijay Sharma, a clerk at a government department. She was brought up with two square meals, and just that. While the Mishra’s were the much regarded brahmins of the town and played in millions, well, quite literally. There was no dearth of girls for Atul either. And, in that sense, even though the girl was gorgeous and very well educated, there was absolutely no match between the family. Then why this union, what was the hurry, what was the need,  I mulled ?

Four months later

It was a busy day at the hospital with back to back surgeries, when I got a call from the Mishra’s. The call was from Atul’s mother and she wanted an immediate appointment. She sounded elated and whispered, “Dr. Gupta I think Arundhati is expecting. Can you check on her at the earliest.” I smiled and asked them to drop by after an hour.  And, within an hour the Mishra’s were sitting at my room. Mrs. Mishra, Arundhati and her husband Atul. I was meeting Arundhati first time after I met her on the day of her wedding. And, all I can say, I was aghast ! Arundhati looked nothing like she looked before. Even though she wore a heavily embellished dress, she looked naked. Her big kholed eyes were blank, expressionless. The bangles in her hand looked like suffocating handcuffs. She looked like a soulless corpse sitting in front of me. For a moment, a strange fear engulfed me, and I gave Atul a disgusting inquiring look. Atul looked away, rather uncomfortably. He probably couldn’t stomach my disgust. I was perplexed, but gathered myself and smiled with reluctance. Atul’s mother went on to brief me, and was more than elated that probably they are going to have an heir soon. I kept nodding, but my eyes wavered towards Arundhati who sat numb, as if she doesn’t even hear, leave aside feeling what all was being said about her and her impending motherhood. Strange, could be an understatement.

“We need to do a scan first. That will make things more clear. And, then we could take it further”, I said more sternly than I should have. “Is it alright Arundhati”?

Arundhati sat without a word, still, and I grew more and more impatient. In a bid to cover up, Mrs. Mishra quipped, “woh na…ghabraiyi hui hai beechari, pehli baar hai na…(oh you know…she is a bit scared, it’s her first time.”) I smiled back, reluctantly, but was least convinced. With every passing minute my fear was growing deeper. There was something wrong, for sure. But what? How would I know that, I kept pondering, discreetly.

Without wasting any time, I asked for an urgent scan. And in the next half an hour, the Radiologist confirmed that Arundhati was indeed four weeks pregnant. His confirmation was a delight for the Mishra’s, but for me it spelled worry, more worry, anguish and distress. The text message read:

“Pregnancy confirmed. 4 weeks. But something wrong. Arundhati refused to look at the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. She was sobbing. I suspect abuse. Please look into it.”

My heart sank, and at the same time I was raged. Abuse! I wanted to yell and question the mother and the son. But without knowing the truth, I couldn’t have done that. I was supposedly their friends, a long time trusted family friend. And, that is the precise reason why perhaps they chose me over any other doctor to handle Arundhati. I stood enraged at their glee, and all I could utter in dismay, “send Arundhati tomorrow for further investigation.” with that I barged out.

I don’t know why I had a soft corner for this girl. I met her just once before, but her warmth and grace was infectious. I remembered her happy face on the day of her wedding. Did I see my past in her? Did I see my own life unfolding again? Did I see again a young beautiful intelligent girl being pinned down, ripped apart and slaughtered with money and might? Did I see my unborn dead girl in her? I felt choked, eyes blurred. How a soulless body she was that day ! And, I just couldn’t fathom what made such a lively soul a living dead body ! I felt vexed. My mind was clouded with questions and more doubts. I couldn’t drift myself away from Arundhati, and realized that my own life was taking a turn too. Arundhati was a mystery that I needed to unravel.

The next day, Arundhati was there at my hospital sharp at 11, surprisingly with Atul by her side. She looked as defunct and barren as the previous day. But, she managed to looked at me with a faint smile on her lips. Her welled eyes and conspicuous silence seemed screaming at me for help. I gathered myself and said, “ Atul you wait here. We will be back in sometime.” Atul was reluctant, but then nodded in silence. Arundhati looked at him, and Atul kept staring at her till she was out of his sight. I saw love, care, concern and guilt in his eyes. It rattled me more, if not Atul…… then who?

“I am not here for any medical investigation. Your pregnancy doesn’t need any. I am here to know what has happened in the last four months. I know something has happened, and I need to know that. Trust me, and tell me…. Arundhati.”

There was a deafening silence between us. Arundhati sat rigid without any movement, her head buried down. The only movement in her body were her blinking lashes. I understood in no time that it wasn’t easy for her to open up in front of me. I was, after all a close friends of the Mishra’s. I slowly dragged my chair towards her, and clamped her palm with both my hands. Her bangles clinked, she jerked, though gently. She was alive, in senses, at least. Her palms were cold much like a corpse. I spoke again, “Arundhati, tell me, please. I know it is difficult for you, but I promise you, nothing will go out of this door. Speak up, you need to.” I held her chin up, she looked ravaged beyond words. But, she spoke, and spoke to kill the last strand of faith in humanity that I had in me.

“I was raped”, she said flat, with a deadpan look. Perhaps she didn’t had anything left in her. I froze, gaped at her, confounded. She probably sensed my cramp, and so without any delay continued to spill the nightmare. “From the past three months I am being taken to the farmhouse they have on the outskirts of the city so that one ‘Sadhu Baba’ can have me. They wanted me to have a son with him, who will be a blessing, undo all the sins and bring glory to the family. They threatened to kill my father, if I tell anyone. Atul too didn’t know until I was pregnant”…. with that Arundhati broke. And, I sat sealed to the chair, grappling with the fallout. Devastated!

I don’t think there is anything that could help me spell out how I felt after hearing her that day. No word, absolutely no word could justify my feelings. But, within those nano seconds I knew for sure, this is one battle I needed to fight, and make her fight too. Before anything else, I am woman and needed to live up to that strength and conviction. I was ready to give up everything for this girl. But, it wasn’t easy. Mishra family and I go a long way, and moreover I had to be utmost cautious about Arundhati and her well being. Arundhati decided to fight against all odds and I, with her. We  sprung into action, and within a month had a case registered against them, and I moved Arundhati to my place. Atul joined her, and that was our first victory.

Mishra’s had everything at stake, and so they decided to fight with all their might. They didn’t spare their son, leave aside me. On the other hand, we had the foetus aborted and DNA results proved that it wasn’t Atul’s child. But, that spelled disaster for the girl. Outrageous aspersions were hurled at her. Her character was butchered and maligned beyond words. She was literally raped in every court hearing,  and filth was generously littered all over her body, mind and soul. But, my Arundhati stood firm. Undeterred by the rottenness of humanity around her, she audaciously took everything that was thrown at her. And, every time she sunk with the catachresis, Atul pulled her up, soothing her scars with his unflinching love and affection.  Amidst all the despicable clamour around, I witnessed how intensely and lovingly they fell in love all over again.  I have seen them sobbing in each other’s arms for hours, embracing each other till the twilights faded away. They discovered true love, they discovered each other, they learned to smile, again…yet again.

It was finally, Atul’s testimony against his own parents and the lecherous ‘sadhu baba’, which nailed them. Even though he was reluctant in the beginning, Atul understood that the only way to give back Arundhati all what she lost, was to uphold her honor and speak against his own people. He had to do it, and he did, with determination and immense belief in the woman he loved.

Today as I sit for the final judgement, I feel relieved, and renewed too. Fighting against an enemy is easy, but fighting against your own friends and family is excruciatingly painful. I realized. But, perhaps what I realized more is the fact that the strength of every woman lies in love, conviction, determination and self belief. Arundhati is a victor today. Rather, I would say, she is the conqueror of her own destiny. Today she wins, and with her, the unparalleled strength of a woman wins too.

Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the October 2017 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.

Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only.

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