Zain glanced through the messages of his old school buddies Whatsapp group. Most of his friends had pictures clicked during the ongoing Durga Puja as their Whatsapp status. Some of them had updated Whatsapp status video related to pandal hopping and celebration.
Despite belonging to a different religion, Durga Puja had always held a special place in his life because of his best friends, the twins Samay and Srestha. But the equations changed on a different night of Puja, twelve years back.
The three of them were soon to leave for different cities for higher studies. Zain had been dating Srestha for six months then. Before he got an opportunity to talk to Samay about their relationship, Samay had walked into Srestha hugging Zain on their terrace on that unfortunate night.
Samay had asked Zain to choose between their friendship and his love for Srestha immediately. Zain had picked their friendship at the cost of breaking Srestha’s heart. Zain left his hometown next month with a vow to never return again.
Srestha had been married to Samay’s senior in Engineering college three years back. This year, she had returned back home with a broken spirit and bruised body after months of physical abuse by her husband. Zain had come to know about it through the Whatsapp group.
Even after so many years, he had kept his heart sealed for Srestha. He waited for the day when Samay could display the requisite faith in their friendship to let him take his relationship with Srestha to the next level. Until then, Zain kept the flame of hope alive in his life through his unrequited love for Srestha.
Shubha gasped for breath as she broomed the floor of the Iyer household. Heavy work coupled with inadequate diet had led to her failing health. The Iyers who paid her the highest salary among the five employers were famous for mistreating people of her class.
Shubha looked at Mrs. Iyer offering sweets to the deities. Shubha felt her stomach crying out for some food. Her alcoholic husband had run away with all her savings last night. She had barely managed to feed the kids and had to sleep without a morsel of food.
In another corner of the house, Iyer’s toddler son was emulating his mother’s actions. The deities had been replaced by his favorite toy called poochie – a dog made out of clay. The little one placed poochie on top of his favorite donut urging it to eat.
“Please let me be born as a toy dog in my next birth. In our world, an inanimate object gets better treatment than people like me,” she spoke to her God with tears in her eyes.
On the morning of Independence Day. the roads were deserted and Shiv could drive the tractor down from Alwar to Jaipur in just two and half hours. He had planned to surprise his sister Vandana by making this sudden trip. It had been a year and half of her wedding to the family of rice merchants in Jaipur. During this period, Shiv had come only once to meet her during rakhi last year. His younger brother Raj had probably fallen asleep at the rear end of the tractor. After losing both his parents within a period of six months, Shiv had single-handedly taken up the responsibility of his younger siblings. His father, a poor farmer who toiled in other’s fields hadn’t left behind a single penny.
Shiv started working odd jobs eighteen hours a day to finally buy a piece of land for farming. He had been saving up for Vandana’s marriage simultaneously. Raj had started helping him on the fields. After Vandana got married, the brothers started pulling up money to purchase a tractor. The microfinance firm had lent them a tractor loan three months back.
His heart had always been set on meeting his sister but it was she who kept encouraging him to focus on his work instead. She had always been very proud of her Dadbhaisa (elder brother). He was relieved that she had been married to a decent family that cared about her happiness. That’s what she always told him.
Shiv looked at the boxes of sweets that Raj had bought for Vandana and her in-laws. They had reached the destination. He parked the tractor on the opposite road of the lane where lay Vandana’s marital home. Waking Raj up, he washed his face with the water from the nearby municipality water tap. There were three to four people who were probably on their way to celebrate the day through flag hoisting.