She sighed as she saw the three musketeers sleep. They were her lifeline – her husband, son and daughter. To watch them snore now, felt exhilarating. After a torturous day, the night seemed to bring some respite. It had been a Sunday and they had given her the hardest of times. Their levels of menace had been exactly in descending order of their ages – the maximum came from the ‘laat-sahab’ (the mental term she often used to refer to her forty-year old husband, Karan) and the least from her two-year old daughter Dhwani. The seven-year old son Rohan had been somewhere in between, shaking hands with his dad every time he succeeded in compelling Shruti to raise her voice in irritation or worse, whispering something in his baby sister’s ears every time she acted obedient to Shruti, as if in an attempt to instigate her into rebellion. Their collective strength reminded her of a team, of which she was the only opponent. All said and done, both the team and the opponent had no existence without each other.
She climbed on to her king-size bed, where she could see three open-mouthed beasts, snoring at different sound levels. She sneaked in like a thief, next to Rohan, who slept on the side of the bed. Next to him, on the other side was Dhwani, with her face cupped by Karan, as if in protection. Shruti was scared on waking up any or all of these demons, in the fear of having a night as disastrous as the day.
Like every other Indian home-maker, she too dreaded Sundays and public holidays. Those were the days when even the luxury of an afternoon nap seemed rare. The Laat-Sahab would be at his laziest best and compete with his kids on that front. While kids would throw toffee wrappers around, he would throw wet towels and used clothes on the bed, hurling loud instructions to Shruti, to pick them up and do whatever she had to with them. She would completely lose her mind when he climbed on to the bed, with his footwear on. She would almost throw a fit, much to the amusement of the Laat Sahab and his toddler team. After every screaming-yelling-exploding session, all three would look at her with amazement in their eyes and a smile on their lips – as if witnessing a mad woman pelt stones on the road. It was those moments that made her realise that it was best to shut up with these folks, than argue.
Being at home with Karan for a full day, involved lot of effort, most of which was directed towards running away from him, from his rather naughty displays of affection, which he called ‘love’. ‘This is not love!’, she would yell and he would giggle at the top of his voice. ‘You can never understand what a woman needs – all she wants is you and your time’, she would say, to which he would immediately jump to a sitting position, with one knee on the floor, hold her hand and say, as if in jest, ‘I’m your slave Madam. Thou haseth all my time’. At this rather mocking interpretation of her feelings, which she strongly believed represented those of other women as well, her face would go red and eyes, wild. Only worse, she would then hear the giggles of her children, as they would come out clapping from some corner of the house, giving her the impression of a drama staged against her and her alone.
Despite all this jeer and jest, the Laat Sahab was the man she loved, the man who knew her, the man who understood things that she understood. Only after several years of marriage had she come to realise that ‘love’ meant different things to different genders. That was the way people had been wired. Thus, most of her earlier displays of anger and frustration for her husband’s so-called indifference to her feelings, were now merely angry displays of love, humour and togetherness, something she believed the children enjoyed and Karan savoured. It was something no Sunday was complete without.
To her, Karan represented yet another child, in a man’s body. He was moody, naughty, carefree and an extremely impulsive being. This coupled with his madness for his wife and the respect for her choices, had reduced their relationship to a more fundamental level, when they did not even require a word from each other to understand that they were and were always meant to be, with each other. Not only a fierce lover, he was a passionate father too, of the kinds who would stand before his children like an armour, before even the air could brush against them. The children were so dependent on his protectiveness for them and the fervour with which he was ready to fight the world for them. In fact, the way he slept with Dhwani now, also represented his own insecurities, his fear of the world and the delicateness of his daughter.
And all this, when Dhwani was not their biological child.
She had been borne to Shruti’s younger sister two years ago, and rendered orphan nearly ten months ago, when her parents had succumbed to injuries after a road accident. With the unflinching support of Karan and her own agenda of protecting her from blood-thirsty relatives, Shruti had brought the child home. Since her entry into the house, Karan had turned a new leaf. While he had been in the habit of inculcating toughness in his son (thanks to the macho-ness he often associated with himself), the gentleness with which he treated the little girl was unparalleled. They ate together, slept together and were virtually inseparable. That had been one thing that had brought about a complete image makeover for Karan, in his wife’s mind. ‘How selfless a man!’ she would think, every time Karan spoke to her about how complete their family was and that they should never think of any more children. It was a kind of selflessness she had only heard of, before Dhwani had walked into their lives, slowly, softly and permanently.
She chuckled as she saw Dhwani turn to Karan’s side and slide her tiny, white arm under his shirt collar. That’s the way they usually slept.
Shruti did not realise when and how the tireness of the day pulled her into the dark and soothing abyss of sleep. As her mind relaxed, her eyeballs began to roll from one corner of the eye to another and thus, began the dream.
They were on a beautiful sea, on a small wooden boat on bright, blue waters. The air was cold, and felt almost surreal as it hit their cheeks in specks. The sun was hidden behind the large white clouds, which looked like low-hanging giant heaps of white cotton candy. No matter which direction one looked in, all one could see were beautiful cone-laden pine trees, lush tall grass and brightly coloured, innocuously large flowers. The air hushed in their ears, and so did the gentle waves. Every now and then, the humming of some bee would break their spell of admiration of the surroundings.
The wooden boat they were on, floated on the vast sea, like a lifeless, empty plastic bottle. The old boatman put in all his strength to propel the boat forward with every movement of the oar. Probably in an attempt to break through the drudgery and boredom in his own life, he would, every now and then, turn around to witness the flamboyant displays of affection the four-member family seated in his boat shared. On some occasions, he would witness Shruti, shyly holding Karan’s hand and on some others, Karan signalling naughty things to Shruti, with his round, expressive eyes, who in turn, giggled like a teenager in love.
Karan sat with Rohan in his arms, while Shruti tightly held Dhwani, who was too engrossed playing with the black plastic beaded eyes of the pink teddy bear she held in her hands. It was a beautiful family – a happy family that needed no one else.
Shruti smiled in her sleep as the dream continued.
As if in a haze, things began to change course. Suddenly, the bright-day sky began to darken. White cotton candy was dispelled forcefully by black, scary-looking clouds that stared at the sea in revenge. The humming of bees was replaced by strange noises – of fishermen shouting, the ringing of death bells, of warnings alarms.
‘The time is not right’, said the boatman, as he turned around this time. Karan could sense fear in those tired and wrinkled eyes, the fear of a watery death.
‘What do you mean?’ Karan started.
Even before the old man could get a chance to answer, may be even before the words could reach his ears, a giant wave of dark blue deathly water began to engulf the little boat from all sides. The boat dwindled and rocked and propped aimlessly under the influence of the tide. Karan and Shruti held hands, as they clutched the children in their arms, more tightly in a protective reflex.
‘It’s probably time to go, Karan’, she said, as she tightly squeezed his fingers, as if for the last time.
‘Not yet’, said the boatman. ‘We can be saved….’
‘But how? What are you waiting for? Tell us – what should we do?’, said a panicked female voice.
‘We can survive only if we manage to reduce the load on the boat. That’s the only way out now…Hurry’, came the even more panicked reply.
‘What do you mean?’ yelled Shruti., when she heard a frantic voice shouting ‘Throw her out!’.
She looked at the boatman in confusion, only to realise that the words had come from Karan. She directed her attention to him, in horror.
‘What the hell do you mean Karan? Who are you referring to?’
‘Throw Dhwani out. She’s the only one we can afford to lose’, came Karan’s reply.
Even before Shruti could raise her hands to nudge him on the shoulders, she felt strong finger nails gouging her arms, as Karan tried to pull Dhwani from Shruti’s lap.
There was a scuffle and a sound – a dreadful melody of Dhwani’s cries, Shruti’s curses and Rohan’s horror. After nearly two minutes, there came complete silence.
The tide has receded, the sun shone again and the sea lookrd calm and friendly again. There was however, once difference – Dhwani was absent.
Shruti looked around the boat. She could see Karan and Rohan to her left and the freckled boatman moving the oars. And yes, a pink one-eyed teddy-bear in the water, not too far from the boat.
‘Aaaaaarghhh’, she shouted in horror, as the dream came to an end. Her shriek was shrill enough to rouse the other three occupants on her king-size bed.
She suddenly grew conscious of three pairs of curious eyes looking at her, not in surprise, but in disgust.
‘Not again Mom’, said Rohan. ‘Why don’t you sleep in another room’ he said, as he turned to his father’s side.
‘The same boat dream again, is it?’ asked Karan, in concern.
‘You keep quiet! How dare you throw her in the water? You loser!’ she said in uncontrollable rage, that caused her mouth to foam as she spoke.
‘Who did Papa throw in the water Mamma’, asked a long-lashed, big-eyed Dhwani, still unable to imagine what could have happened at that hour of the night.
Dhwani’s question suddenly made Shruti feel foolish.
‘I am sorry bhaiya’, said he, with his hands folded before his chest, in his usual manner of mischief. Next time, when you must reduce the load off the boat, throw me in the water instead and sail ashore safely with your kids. OK?’
She didn’t realise when she was giggling, and so was he.
Image taken from Google images.