span - 2006.04.23: lake okechobee, fl

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Our Little Secret



Our Little Secret

"You are under arrest!" said the constable before he handcuffed and took him away. Two hundred and thirty-eight eyes had witnessed the scenario that fateful day.

"... And they even took him away... But don't tell this to anyone... Mrs. Mishra, don't tell anyone that they took him away... This is our little secret," sobbed Yashodhara.

She was seven. Sitting by the gutter that flowed parallel to the minuscule hovel, she portrayed a sight that would encourage thousands to donate at least a few bucks to Unicef. The dirty drain had witnessed even worse times.

"My daughter will be named Yashodhara!" he burst out.

"No! Tina, it will be," she fired back.

"Yashodhara!" - "Tina!"

"One word from that mouth of yours and you'll be dead," he cautioned her, wiping the streams of perspiration from his forehead, resembling a Cobra, coiling back, waiting for that one final move.

"No way... My daughter..."

"That's it!" was all she could have heard before her frail figure collapsed onto the floor. She might have heard the phrase "Damn it!" had the flying tumbler not hit her so hard on her left temple. Mr. Bhalekar had done it again! Every day before the 'Suryadevta' - Sun God, he would swear to abstain from anger throughout the day and like most other, had obtained it, only to regret, once more.

Dharavi is not a nice place to raise a family in Mumbai. Especially if one has a wife like Smt. Indumati Bhalekar. Theirs was an arranged marriage, like most others in the country and a failure, like all others. With the meagre monthly salary he earned as an armed guard in the Bank of Saurashtra, Smt. Indumati Bhalekar strived hard to maintain a respectable social status, among the tens of thousands, not unlike themselves, in the ever widening slums of Dharavi.

Mrs. Bhalekar was every soon-to-be-husband's nightmare. The head that was placed not more than four feet above the ground was equipped with a mouth whose shrill screeches ousted that of most of the barn owls of United States. The eyeing eyes, the eavesdropping ears and the nosy nose worked in perfect synchronisation which made her just an average Dharavi neighbour. One look was all an observant man would need to describe every aspect of her self and Mr. Bhalekar was not an observer, nor was his mother, who had caused their miserable unmarried lives to become desperate by forcing him to tie the knots with Ms. Indumati Khote. All throughout her life Indumati had abhorred her name; so had everybody else in Dharavi, as a result of which, she had been given names, titles and aliases, worthy of being listed on the first page of the "Book of the Most Dangerous Creatures in the World!" Bitter experience was what made her want to name her two-week-old daughter 'Tina.'

Mr. Bhalekar prided himself on being cultural and carrying out the family tradition of naming the first born after either an Indian deity or a mythological character.

Yashodhara was the beautiful wife of Prince Siddharatha, who left her in search of Nirvana. Siddharatha achieved Enlightenment and became 'Buddha.' May be it was the pain that Yashodhara felt and fought that compelled Mr. Bhalekar to name his first born after her.

In the most of cat and mouse quarrels that followed the incident that night, for the next five years, Mr. Bhalekar emerged victorious, the success being attributed to his unusually gigantic stature. Yashodhara was five.

Mr. and Mrs. Bhalekar were seated in front of a doctor, who somehow felt great joy in introducing himself as Mr. K.L. Dutta from Calcutta. Little 'Dhara', as Mrs. Bhalekar had nicknamed her, much to the dislike of her spouse, was jumping and frolicking all along the hospital corridor. The child specialist put on his rather thickly framed glasses, looked carefully at the report Mr. Bhalekar had given him, twitched his nose, most likely to adjust the focus of the glasses and zeroed his mouth in disbelief. The Bhalekars had come to him with their little girl who suffered from Hyperkinesis, an extreme condition in which the child regularly falls into periods of hyperactivity, coupled with sudden outbursts of violent actions. Dr. Dutta caught a glimpse of little Dhara, as she ran past the door... "Such a sweet little girl..." he murmured before sinking back into his chair, devising the proper treatment method to be given to her.

Two years had crawled by... Today was the red-letter day in the lives of the Bhalekars. A letter from the Chief Child Specialist, from the Mumbai Mental Hospital had arrived, forwarding the good news that "the daughter of Mr. Abhimanyu Bhalekar and Mrs. Indumati Bhalekar, Ms. Yashodhara A. Bhalekar had been successfully cured of Hyperkinesis." She had been kept under extremely careful medical surveillance for the past two years, the fact which had robbed the Bhalekars of every possession they had, even the sum set aside for Yashodhara's education, save their thatched shelter. Dr. Dutta had promised he would bring 'little Dhara' himself.

Mr. Bhalekar was waiting outside his house, his eyes fixed at the perennial duct, which once again dug out the dark memories buried deeply in his mind. Yashodhara was four then. She had just learnt a new word from a neighbour's kid and a pretty costly one that too... 'Doll.' Mr. Bhalekar somehow managed to buy her a cheap replica of the 'All-New Indian Barbie,' flooding the markets.

Two days was the time the doll stayed in one piece. Yashodhara went off into one of her hyperactive frenzies of destruction. They had been warned by the neighbours and some acquaintances that any thing done to stop her actions would in turn make the condition worse and may be even do some permanent damage.

Mr. Bhalekar had once heard of such a similar condition of a young boy in England, through a rich friend who seen it on his Cable TV, but had refused to believe that his daughter was abnormal and that too at such a young age. Mrs. Bhalekar's outlook was fairly simple, "She's your daughter and she's inherited that from you!"

Yashodhara had uprooted the head of the Barbie-clone and had offered the Sacrificial gifts to the 'Lord of the Gutter.' Within the next ten months she had sacrificed 3 dolls belonging to the neighbour's kid, 2 wooden toys that her father had given on her fifth birthday, four plastic cars, owned by Tinu, another neighbour's kid and as many books and newspapers that she could lay her hands on.

Finally, thought a relieved Mr. Bhalekar, those days of living his nightmares were over.

Finally, his daughter had been cured of her illness.

Finally, his family was no longer the prominent abnormality of Dharavi.

Finally... He could here the words - "Daddy... Daddy..."

He looked up... And there in front of him was the good old doctor with Yashodhara... His Yashodhara... His beautiful little child... Two years was a long time to be separated from one's child. "Oh my darling..." were his words before he burst out into tears at the unforgettable moments of reunion with his daughter. Mrs. Bhalekar rushed out of the house to join them. This was the happiest moment, any three of them would enjoy in their entire lives.

"Mrs. Mishra! Mrs. Mishra!" shrieked Yashodhara and flew out of the house to meet her good old 'Nurse Auntie.' Yashodhara's recovery and treatment was but a result of Mrs. Mishra's two years of hard work. She was a nice lady and forever cheerful. "And how is my lovely Yasho feeling now?" queried the plump round faced nurse.

"I'm fine, Mrs. Mishra..."

"Welcome to our little palace, Mrs. Mishra. Dhara goes forever saying 'Mrs. Mishra this... Mrs. Mishra that...'" greeted Mrs. Bhalekar coming out of her house, "I always wanted to thank you personally for all your efforts. It's so nice of you to come here..." And the chat continued in this so-sweet manner for another fifteen minutes, the topics wavering from the recent hike in the price of onions to the secrets behind cooking a really good 'Malai Kofta.'

"I'll have to go now, Indu. My mother-in-law is having two of her friends over for dinner tonight. Yasho...Yasho... Come here..." and she walked with Yashodhara out of the house. Taking out something warped in a shiny foil she hushed, "This is for you Yasho... From your Mrs. Mishra, " and handed it over to the bemused girl. "But don't tell this to anyone... Yasho, don't tell anyone... This is our little secret," said Mrs. Mishra, just like she had said it a thousand times before in the past two years at the hospital.

Yashodhara named her Sari-clad Barbie, 'Mrs. Mishra,' although she bore little resemblance to her 'Nurse Auntie.'

"I've told you not to play with that dirty girl a hundred and seventy-two times and yet you've dared to disobey me. You know what her father does for a living? He cleans the filthy dirty urinals at the Church Gate Railway Station! And at this age, you would not even understand how her mother gets that extra money!" Mrs. Bhalekar fumed ferociously. Yashodhara, face down, eyes in tears, in one corner of the house; still unable to understand why Mummy did not want her to play with Uma, after all Uma was so nice to her and had even given her half a biscuit the other day! This was just an average day in the life of young Yashodhara and many similar would soon follow.

Yashodhara was happy that evening because her Daddy was in a good mood when he came home, something that happened once in a blue moon, rather, as she had not found out as yet, on the last day of every month when he got his monthly pay.

Mrs. Bhalekar too was eagerly waiting for him, after all the groceries, which of course, consisted of nothing but wheat, onions and potatoes, were almost consumed. The dinner was served - two rotis, dal and some boiled vegetables; She cooked the boiled vegetables only on special occasions and pay-day was one of them.

"Oh my god!" spat her husband, along with whatever he had in his mouth, "Why is there so much salt in the dal?"

"I'm sorry...I'm sorry... Let me check it... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I don't know that I had put so much of it. It must have fallen by mistake... I'm sorry... Please don't be angry... Please...." she defended herself.

"Shut up and give me a glass of water you fool!" erupted the dormant volcano, becoming active once again.

"Mrs. Mishra, don't look there... Mummy and Daddy are fighting again... Don't cry... It will all be over soon..." Yashodhara comforted her doll, sitting in her corner of the house.

It was all over soon. It was just another pay-day in the lives of the Bhalekars. But the difference was that like others, it did not end with the night.

"You stupid lady! What the hell you think you're doing? Yesterday it was salt, today it is pepper, tomorrow God knows what? Poison? Do you want to kill me? Speak up... Don't hide your face in your Sari... Speak up bitch!" Mr. Bhalekar had once again broken the promise made to 'Suryadevta'.

"I'm sorry... I don't know... I was really careful today... Please don't be mad... No... No... Don't beat me... Please... Please... " wept Indumati before she knelt down and joined her hands in front of him, "Please... Don't beat me... I'm sorry... This will never happen again... Please...."

And it happened the very next day...

"You are dead I tell you! You are DEAD!" he growled as he took out his belt to do something he'd done only twice previously.

"Mrs. Mishra, don't look there... Daddy is beating Mummy today... Don't cry... It will all be over soon..." Yashodhara consoled Mrs. Mishra, still sitting in the same corner of the house.

That night it seemed it was all over, for good. Within a few minutes Mrs Bhalekar was lying outside the house, beside the gutter, bleeding and howling in pain. The neighbours had already disappeared into their huts, all being as terrified of Mr. Bhalekar's temper as his wife. As soon as he had retired for the night, Yashodhara slid outside, with a small cloth to clean and heal her mother's wounds. Her mother was bleeding and crying. "The bitch will survive...", Mr. Bhalekar muttered in his sleep, as if cueing Yashodhara to come into the house and to go to sleep.

The morning proved him wrong. Hue and cry filled the atmosphere.

"Bring out the man! He killed his wife!"

"Someone call the police!"

"They are on their way... What about her dead body?"

"Who will pick her up from the gutter?"

"Move aside... Move aside... Here they come... "

"See... That's the Police Officer In-charge of murders in this area..."

"They'll get the bloody man!"

Mr. Bhalekar had already deduced the entire situation and it was evident from the guilt on his face. He came out, his hand raised, head bowed, accepting whatever might come. He had even forgotten what would happen to his Yashodhara...

"You are under arrest!" Said the constable before he handcuffed and took him away.

"Mrs. Mishra... My mummy is dead... And they even took my Daddy away... But don't tell this to anyone... Mrs. Mishra... Mummy did not let me play with Uma... She was so bad... But she is dead now... Don't tell anyone that Mummy did not put the salt and pepper in Daddy's food. Don't tell anyone that yesterday, I tied the cloth around Mummy's neck and pushed her into the gutter. Don't tell this to anyone... Mrs Mishra... This is our little secret," cried Yashodhara, before she uprooted Mrs. Mishra's head and offered the sacrificial gift to the 'Lord of the Gutter.'

"Mrs. Mishra, this is our little secret..."