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So he tried to silence her; for he felt ashamed about what he had imagined and said. He always did that to her. Shut her up because he never had the courage to accept that he was wrong.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Charitha Madikeri is one of the winners for the May 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Trisha Das commented, “Well-written and descriptive story about Sita, Ram and Lakshman in the forest. I liked the mythological setting and the anti-climax. The cue felt out of context. ”
It was dark. The path was uneven and rocky. Three dark figures were seen walking uphill.
The man walking at the forefront was asking the other two people walking behind to hurry, as it was already midnight and they had to find a safe place to lay their heads on in peace. The man behind cursed the moment in which he had stepped into the particular forest in which they walked.
The person walking in the middle was heard speaking aloud. If not for the voice, one couldn’t have made out that it was a woman, for she was equal in stature with the two men and walked uphill vigorously.
When she spoke it was as it she was speaking to herself “Moon today seems to be playing hide and seek with the stars. Sometimes, she disappears behind the clouds and sometimes pops out somewhere behind the trees to wink at the perplexed little stars.”
“Since when did the Moon become a woman?” The man walking at the front asked.
“You tell me that I’m so beautiful like the moon sometimes. Do you mean to say I have a man’s face? Anyone would deduce from what you said that Moon is a woman. While making lo..”
“Hold your tongue woman.. see who’s around before you speak of such things!”
“Never mind brother” the man walking behind spoke in a feeble voice “I came with you to serve you. My ears shall not hear things that are not fit to be heard. I shall henceforth be deaf to things spoken between my beloved brother and his divine wife and shall answer only when called upon.”
“Don’t you mind our little squabbles dear brother. You may hear and speak whatever you please.. she shall henceforth not utter such obscenities before you.”
“But what was obscene in what I said? I just wanted to say that while we were making lotus garland for the goddess one night…”
“Speak not woman.” he said in a voice that discouraged further conversation. The husband now felt guilty for thinking that she wanted to speak about them making love. So he tried to silence her; for he felt ashamed about what he had imagined and said. He always did that to her. Shut her up because he never had the courage to accept that he was wrong. He spoke of other things instead.
“Brother, do you hear a tiger growling somewhere afar. We must find a safe place to protect her,” the husband told the brother who was already gasping for breath.
As the night progressed, they finally managed to find a cave that looked deserted. There were no signs of life around. Quickly she gathered a few twigs, dry grass, sticks and made fire.
“The smoke will turn out the snakes and scorpions from the cave”she muttered. The brothers shuddered at the thought of the snakes in the dark.
She cooked a few wild potatoes and greens that she had gathered on the way.
“Who would have thought that a queen could cook such a delicacy with literally nothing…” the husband wanted to say. But decided against saying such things. After all, women had to know how to cook, queen or no queen, he thought.
Meanwhile, the brother declared that he would sit at the entrance of the cave and guard his brother and his divine wife.
But anyone who saw his face could make out clearly that he was desperate to fall asleep by the fire. It was a terribly cold night and the brother was mortally afraid of the wild beasts. The fire would keep him warm and keep away the beasts.
The husband and the wife acquiesced reluctantly, because they too wanted the comfort of the fire after the long walk in the cold.
Inside the cave, the husband sat close to the wife. She felt a warmth run around her body because of the intimacy. While she was relishing the intimacy that the closeness of the flesh bestowed upon her, he said “Stay close to me dear, lest some evil creature cause harm to thee. Women are so fragile. They need to be protected. I’ll protect you till my last breath. I know it’s a long journey. But time will run and we’ll go back to my kingdom where you’ll always be the queen of this ideal man.”
Listening to his words she recoiled. Not because she did not want kindness and love, but because she did not want to be treated like she was some feeble creature that had to protected. Nobody likes to be pitied upon. Not even the sick. That only aggravates their suffering. And all the time he spoke that it was his journey. His kingdom. His story. What about me? She thought.
Something she had held within her from a very long time broke out and she spoke “Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.“
“What do you mean by risk and unpredictability.. change.. challenges and all that? You don’t want to go back to the palace?”
“Great.. then what will become of you? What if some demon takes you away, to cook a delicious supper out of you”
“I’ll fight the demon”
He started laughing. It echoed and echoed till she felt a strange repulsion towards the way he laughed. It was a blessing that it was dark and he could not look at her face.
She thought it was better not to talk and remained silent for a long time. The silence seemed to prick his ego.
After a while, he asked again, “What do you mean by you want someone fearless and fiery? Aren’t you happy with my courage and bravery?”
There was a silence on the other side.
“Then why did you choose me?” he asked and there sounded a clear anger in his voice.
“Because I had no other choice. It was my destiny. I am a character in your story. Solely yours. I have no choices”
“What would you do if you had?”
“I would have walked out. I’m sure. To find my own adventures and write my own story.”
“You may leave now. If you remain, you’ll never get another chance” he said. He was sure she could never go out in the dark, into the unknown wild, in that cold that equalled death. She is a woman, after all, he thought.
But he was mistaken. He heard her footsteps in the dark as she began to walk away. It was then that fear gripped him.
“Sita,” he called out, “could you please kindle the fire? What if some evil creature stings me in here?”
She sighed and blew into the fire and raised smoke. She picked some embers quickly with the tip of her fingers and placed them all on a flat piece of rock. She kept it in the cave and was about to leave, when the embers caught fire and she looked at his face.
It was the face of human fear. She decided to stay back. In his story. That’s how you came to know of her. In history.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Trisha Das, who is the author of Kama’s Last Sutra, Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas, The Mahabharata Re-imagined, The Art of the Television Interview and the internationally acclaimed How to write a Documentary Script. Trisha has written columns and short stories for Magical Women (Hachette India, 2019) and publications like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia India, Hindustan Times and Scroll. In her film-making career, Trisha has directed over 40 documentaries. She’s won an Indian National Film Award (2005) and was UGA’s International Artist of the year.
The cue is from her latest book The Misters Kuru: Return to the Mahabharata, which is a much awaited sequel to Ms Draupadi Kuru.
“Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.“
Image source: a still from Sita Sings the Blues
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Charitha is a storyteller from Madikeri, Karnataka. For more stories, follow her on instagram @charithamadikeri
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