A week after her elder sister had been married off, he had forced himself on her. She took her sister’s place who was his ‘plaything’ before Malti. He had formed an incestuous relation with his first daughter even before the child had turned ten. In that sense, Malti was luckier. She was thirteen after all.
When her sister’s abuse began, their mother was still alive. She found out what he had done and kicked up a terrible row. A week later, their mother died mysteriously. She was hale and hearty in every way. Barely six months later, he remarried. For two months he kept off his daughter, but once the newness of his second wife wore off, he resumed with Malti’s sister again.
Four years ago, after seven surgical terminations of pregnancy, Malti gave birth to a son. She was taken to a strange village by her step-mother for the confinement. The boy was left there in care of some people they barely knew. They were promised a monthly remittance to pay for the boy’s upbringing but beyond the first six months, nothing was sent. Malti had no idea whether the child was dead or alive.
Neither her step-mother nor her sister dared to intervene on her behalf. They were so severely traumatised themselves that they had no courage left. The step-mother knew of the fate of the first wife. Moreover, she feared for the life of her son.
The torture had continued… for ten long years. And now he hoped to marry her off- ravaged, broken and destitute in every possible way.
She refused to get married. At this unexpected rebellion, her father had beaten her. Without her consent, he fixed up the marriage with a man with no family. Malti was not allowed to see the man she was being tied off to.
As the wedding day drew closer, Malti’s protests became more and more vociferous… and he became correspondingly more violent. That day, he had beaten her up mercilessly. In panic and desperate outrage, she ran away from home. Raj was the only one she trusted so she waited by his house to talk to him.
Both Johnny and I were sobbing bitterly by the time Raj finished telling us her story. He looked and sounded abjectly beaten. I know he was still trying to accept the horror of Malti’s life.
Raj didn’t know what to do, so he brought her to me. He was sure Malti’s father would be hunting for her. He dared not take her to his home. He wasn’t sure Meera would support Malti either, though she was sympathetic towards her.
We discussed many options. I would have taken her to my home but I was facing a crisis at home too and there’s no way I could have taken that bruised child there. It would have done her more harm than good. Finally I told Raj to put her into some decent hotel and to take her to the police station in the morning. We decided it would be best if he took her to the women’s cell. I promised to meet them there.
We noticed Malti hadn’t touched her tea. When Raj asked her why, she said her left elbow was paining. That’s when we saw the pool of blood beside her chair. A part of her kurta was dripping with it. I told Raj to take her to the doctor first of all.
An hour later he called to say that Malti had a fractured elbow. They were at the hospital waiting for the x-ray report. She had a fractured elbow and she was sitting quiet as a mouse in my office! Before that, she had been wandering about town since two in the afternoon cradling a broken elbow! How traumatised was she that she could quietly suffer an injury as serious as the one she had without a murmur? What on earth had she become!?? It seemed to make the horror more real, if possible.
In the morning, she asked to speak to us before she lodged a complaint against her father. She told us that during the night she had decided to get married and get out of that house. The only complaint she want to make against her father was that he beat her, nothing else. As you can imagine, I wasn’t happy with that at all. The man needed to be punished, after all.
“God will punish him ma’am”, she said in her quiet way. Raj and I argued with her. We knew she was terrified of him, so we tried to reassure her of her safety. No matter how much we tried to convince her though, she remained adamant. I remember I was very upset. I couldn’t bear the thought of that animal getting off scot-free. If I had my way, I’d throw him in boiling oil… and things much worse besides.
She could see Raj and I were upset. Finally, she said, “Sir, Ma’am, I am very fond of my brother. That animal (her father) would not hesitate to sell off the boy. Of course, he may still but at least let me not give him an excuse. I won’t have that on my conscience. I’ve already caused death or misery to one boy… not another.”
There was nothing Raj and I could say after that. We had to accept what she had decided. The decision was hers to make, not ours. And who’s to say what brings greater peace to another person- letting go completely or to make sure the guilty are punished and retribution served?
She insisted on speaking to her husband to-be. She wanted to tell him- not the whole terrible story- but at least an abridged version of it. I was highly skeptical, though the thought of her marrying a man who had no idea what he was getting into, wasn’t a happy option either. Again, the decision had to be hers.
Malti gave him a glimpse of her life, without naming the perpetrator of her miseries. It turned out that he had his own confession to make as well. He told her that he was nearly forty and sterile. Apparently he too had been trying to talk to her once before they got married so that he could tell her all this, but her father wouldn’t let him meet her.
He accepted her brokenness because she so readily accepted his. It was amazing to witness it.
After her police complaint, her father was called and bound to not harm her in anyway. He was also made to promised that he would let Raj and I keep in touch with her through phone- and to visit her- until she was safely married.
She called me the day of her wedding and to say good bye.
“Ma’am, I will never get in touch with you or Raj Sir again”, she began.
When I expressed surprise, she said, “Ma’am please don’t feel bad. I want to forget everything that has happened to me in the past ten years. I will cut off from my sister and brother too. I want nothing around me that will remind me of Malti. I have even told my husband that he must call me Reena. I will bury Malti in my father’s house before I go.”
You need to spend time crawling alone through shadows to truly appreciate what it is to stand in the sun.
~ Shaun Hick
I had never heard her talk this much. Truly,
Malti Reena sounded absolutely new. I told her I would see her the next day. She forbade me to attend her wedding.
“Ma’am, no. You are Raj Sir must not come. I will not have you both eat that man’s (her father) food. Let evil remain where it is. I won’t have you tainted by it ”, she declared, her voice firm, decided.
“Alright Malti. Just as you wish. Will you be okay?” said I.
“Ma’am tomorrow is my liberation day! Of course I will be okay! I’ll be more than okay!”
“Now that’s absolutely wonderful Reena!” I said my heart full of joy and gratitude.
“You called me Reena! Yes, I am Reena now! Malti never was!”
Then she fell silent for a minute. In a wet, hoarse voice she asked me, “Ma’am, was Malti a very bad girl?”
“No beta”, I said, struggling to reach her through my tears. “Malti was a good girl. She was brave, wonderful and very, very beautiful. Don’t you ever, EVER, forget that, you hear?”
“I won’t forget ma’am. I won’t forget Raj Sir or you. And John Sir too. But ma’am”, she asked fearfully, “you all will forget me, wont you?”
“No”, I told her quietly, “there’s no way any of us would forget you. We are better people because you came into our lives. We will always carry the memory of you in our hearts, always, no matter what. You have shown us the kind of courage that is impossible to forget. You have shown us the most beautiful face in the world… the face of grace. We can’t ever forget you. Do you believe me?”
“I believe you ma’am.”
And she rang off.
Note: This is a true story, no embellishments, no exaggerations. Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
Written on: 21st March 2010
Broken Wings (Fin)