petervas

The anklet bells went dead

In Carnatic, Music, Music, Political, Short Story, Social, Women on April 20, 2013 at 11:04 pm

 
 
 

anklet3

 
 

Bhanu Devi left the small water tap running while she scrubbed off the dried-up blobs of henna paste on her palms and feet. As the olive green henna dregs, washed away on the white tiles of a dimly lit bathroom, an intricate bloody-red pattern emerged on her palms and feet. She reminisced on her own wedding preparations of a long time ago.

“Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land” demanded her mother to the one applying the henna design, a day prior to her wedding, some three decades ago.

With that, the design grew even more intricate. Bhanu Devi snapped out of this dreamy haze when she heard foot steps behind her.

“Don’t waste the water” said Meera Bai the prison warden, rather stiffly.

Bhanu Devi looked at her palms. They were flush red with the henna design. Yes, they were intricate. Yes, a mosquito will find it difficult to find an open spot to land. She turned her palms over to reveal an equally red finger tip and nails. She weaved her fingers together and imagined herself as a dead corpse. She would make a pretty one, she thought. She shut the tap, picked up her white saree and gave it a quick wiggle. She was prepared to die.

Meera Bai escorted her back to her cell. It was too early for the other prison mates to be awake. It was 3:00 AM on a cold Tihar jail Thursday morning, and Bhanu Devi’s anklet bells proved an insufficient wake-up ringtone for the deep sleepers. She passed Rupali the prayerful, Mohsina the beautician, Savitri the musician and Jamila the vaastu expert. The anklet bells were Savitri the musician’s idea. They were all behind bars, they were all fast asleep. They knew each other for more than a decade now. They were the survivors who lived past an alarming mortality rate in this notorious maximum security prison for hardened criminals. She stopped at her tracks, as she felt a tug at her saree. She looked down. It was Jamila the vaastu expert, kneeling down, one hand holding the prison bar and the other, Bhanu Devi’s white saree.

“Face east, you will attain moksha” she whispered fiercely. Having said that she let out a loud wail and started crying.

Just the previous night, Mohsina the beautician applied the henna on Bhanu Devi’s hands and feet. She was constantly reminded of her brief as the rest of the girls giggled – “Not even a mosquito should find an open spot to land”

Rupali the prayerful, read from the scriptures, but they did not have the patience to hear it. So she slipped into a love triangle Bollywood potboiler. “Rupali, tell us what you would have done, if you caught your husband cheating?” They actually knew it in great detail, and needed nothing to jog their memories. This unusual night was a last supper of sorts, and it threw up unusual questions. They already knew that Rupali had made it impossible to find any trace of the victim – her cheating husband, and his illicit lover, some two decades ago.

“Let us not dwell in a past where we can never find redemption. Memory only serves to confirm our rotten selves.” Rupali slipped into a simple sermon to an attentive audience of four that night. “Only action is a great redeemer, hence let us do good deeds”

Bhanu Devi leaned forward to clutch Rupali, but stopped abruptly realizing that she had pasty henna on her hands. “Thank you for keeping me alive in this dark world”

Mohsina the beautician pulled her gently back and signaled to Savitri the musician to wipe the tears from Bhanu Devi’s face “Just dab, not wipe. We do not want the kajal to smear the entire face”

Savitri the musician made it abundantly clear that the anklet bells be of the seventh note of the swaras. The “Nishadha” or the high pitched “ni” of the musical scale. “Nothing else would do” she had mentioned to Lalu the pimp, who was a tone deaf gate-keeper of prisons, and got it right after the fifth try. “Ni, you bloody idiot!” yelled Savitri the musician loudly into his ears. “Ni, Ni, Ni, SaRiGaMaPaDhaNi, Ni, Ni, get it?”

Lalu, finally got it by sheer luck. It was the luck of trial-and-error. The anklet bells matched the damned “Ni”, a high-frequency note that Savitri the musician swore you could hear from the other side of the universe. It was her damned idea, that this high pitched note, could be heard loud and clear from a distance. Even from the gallows, that is.

Jamila the vaastu expert, gasped for breath, by which time everybody was awake. “Do not worry darling, we are with you!” cried somebody in the dark and it was clear it was a male voice.

Bhanu Devi walked the 240 steps north, 300 steps east, up a small staircase of 5 steps, 34 steps right and across the multi-faith temple-mosque-church for lost causes to arrive at the gallows. “Hey, Bhagwan!” said the hangman as he nervously slipped the black mask over her face and proceeded to tighten the noose that he hoped would not fail. He was no professional hangman. But they said they will pay him Rs.5,000 if he gets it right. They forgot to tell him it would be a woman though. India’s first woman to be hanged to death. “Beyond rarest-of-rare cases” he thought to himself as he pulled the lever.

Bhanu Devi slumped out of sight and into the dark gallows. She did make a valiant attempt to jangle the anklets in the depths to produce the “Ni” that Savitri assured would reach their ears. That she had moved on from this world to another.

“Did you hear that?” asked Savitri at around 5:01 AM that fateful Thursday morning. That high pitched “Ni” reached her ears.

Three times before it went dead.

 
 
 
Notes

  1. Pranab clears way for first-ever hanging of a woman
  2. Vijay Madhav’s cover – ARR’s Uyire/Tu Hi Re
  3. The Death Penalty Worldwide
  4. “It’s like living in a graveyard.”
  5. Dearth of hangmen in India

 
 
 

 

Other Short Stories
bharathi raghu pieta
A Delivery in the Slow Mail Lesson One – Mayamalavagowla Gudiya – A doll that saved me

 
 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: