Woodsmoke At Twilight,

When Julian Nokrek entered the auditorium that evening, the entire audience went wild with excitement. The clapping didn’t stop for a good five minutes. He was not yet very comfortable either with his new role of Finance Minister, nor with the two security men who followed him like his shadow.

“ Quite a handsome guy” said one young thing. “ He could have easily become a movie star instead of a politician.”

“ And why invite a Finance Minister to chair a cultural event?” asked her friend.

“ Don’t you know? He’s quite an authority on Tribal Art and Culture. He’s authored several books on the subject. He belongs to one of the tribes that are naturally very artistic. I hear there’s a group from his State participating in today’s program.

The Festival of Folk Art was part of the year long celebrations of the fiftieth Anniversary of Indian Independence. The Government was keen on reviving Folk Arts that were dying for want of patronage.

Julian had always interested himself in Indigenous Art, folklore and music. He belonged to the Khasi tribe who lived in the North-East of India , but claimed descent from the Polynesians. The Baptist missionaries had transformed the face of NEFA through education and religion, and his was one of the thousands of families who had benefited from their work.

Julian leaned back in his chair, preparing to enjoy the evening. It was good to get away from work. The program would go on well into the night.

“Very representative.” he thought, as he scanned the program. “There are artists from all corners of the country.”

The compere was a young graduate from the National School of Drama. She was the first tribal girl from her tribe, to be educated. Before each group performed, she gave a short introduction to the artists, their region and their theme. There were drummers from Mysore and dancers from Manipur. Orchestras using quaint musical instruments made out of hollow bamboo and dried gourds, played haunting melodies.

“What a store-house of cultures!” thought Julian. “If only we could let the rest of the world see and appreciate our diverse heritage! We’ve got to make sure that these exceptional arts don’t die out.”

It was a long time since he had enjoyed himself so much. Every item was unique in itself. There was still so much to see and learn in this country.

“ As people become more educated, and move away from their roots, they despise the ways and traditions of their forefathers. I guess that’s what is called progress. We have lost our perspective.”

He was shaken out of his thoughts by the announcer. How quickly the evening had slipped by. They had almost reached the end of the program.

“ The next item is a Gypsy dance by a group from North India . These gypsies have given up their nomadic existence for a settled life in the hills. The Government has gifted them agricultural land for cultivation. The women are skilled embroiderers and their colorful work can be bought at any of the Government Emporia.

And yes, we have a surprise for you. To wind off the program, there will be a solo performance by a gypsy belle. She has choreographed her own performance, as well as that of the group. The music is indigenous to the tribe.”

Suddenly Julian was alert.

“Gypsies! Why must the word hurt so much! I can almost conjure up the scene of wood smoke at twilight, billowing out into the skies, from the open camp fire, and the smell of burning logs.”

The sound of castanets and tambourines transported him back in time and space to an open area behind his apple orchard. The gypsies had camped on that site every year, for almost two decades. As a boy, he had spent many hours hidden among the branches of a tree, watching their activities.

They used to pitch their tents in a shapeless circle. Each tent had a kid or a goat tied outside. There was poultry too. Children hopped in and out of the tents, girls in billowing skirts and pigtails, boys in short pants and colored banians.

In the center of the circle, women built a camp-fire and cooked their meals over it. At twilight, men brought out their tambourines and women danced a jig, their plaits flying in the air, their billowing skirts whirling around so fast that watching them made him dizzy.

“ I used to sit in the tree-top and imagine they were wood-sprites in a trance,” he thought.

The women on the stage had begun to dance. Their multicolored, sequined skirts reminded Julian of Audubon’s “birds of bright plume.”

“But something is missing. I can picture how they used to dance with such spontaneous abandon, to the clap of the castanets and the tinkle of the tambourines. I find this rather contrived, as though it is being show-cased for public consumption.”

As his thoughts flew back to that time so long ago, his face was sad.

He had been so engrossed in their dance that day, that he hadn’t noticed a little girl approach.

“Spy! Get down and go home before I call my father.” she shouted.

She couldn’t have been more than seven, a slim girl with a pleated skirt that hung just short of her ankles. Her feet were pretty too, adorned with silver anklets. Her hair was brown and twisted into braids that hung on either side of her face from underneath her red bandana.

“I’m not a spy,” Julian had answered. “Don’t drive me away. I was only enjoying the dance.”

“Then you may stay,” she said, flashing him a smile. “Where do you live?”

“Oh just behind the orchard. If you meet me here tomorrow, I’ll show you where.”

Because it was vacation time, he was free to roam through the woods with Dhulia . Together they romped hand in hand, picking wild flowers for her hair, stealing birds’ eggs from their nests, and having fun. She was as agile as a cat, and could climb up and down a tree almost as fast as he could.

Julian lived at “Green View”, a large rambling house outside Shillong, which his father had inherited from an old American missionary. He had been a lonely child as his mother had passed away in his infancy, and his father was too preoccupied with his job.

A relative had been employed as his nanny. Though she was lenient to a fault, there was one thing she was firm about.

“Stay clear of the gypsies, young man. They are thieves and confidence tricksters. They’ll camp here for three of four weeks, steal all they can, and move on to new territory. I’m warning you, Julian,” she cautioned, “If ever I catch you straying beyond the orchard, and chit-chatting with the gypsies, I’ll give you a sound spanking.”

So Julian’s new friendship with Dhulia had to be kept a secret. He smuggled out in his pockets, cookies and pastries for her. She in turn would bring him an egg or two, laid by her favorite hens. At the end of three weeks, Dhulia vanished, to pick up the threads of her itinerant life-style

This became a recurring pattern for more than a decade. Three wonderful weeks in summer, then back to school and playmates, while Dhulia roamed the countryside with her band of gypsies. She knew so much about Nature, of birds, beasts and flowers and of changing seasons. Julian listened to it all with the eagerness of childhood.

Soon he was nineteen. That year he was hard at work preparing for his exams. He had not looked out of his window for days, and had missed the trail of wood smoke in the sky.

She rattled the gate to attract attention. In her hand she held a basket full of eggs.

“Fresh eggs for sale! Fresh eggs for sale!”

Nanny ran out to investigate

“Go away, go away,” she shouted in her shrill voice. “We don’t want any eggs.”

“But Ma’am, the eggs are fresh, and look how large they are.”

The voice was Dhulia ‘s. Julian went to the window, and looked down at the two women. Dhulia raised her eyes, and Julian blew her a kiss. Mission accomplished, Dhulia walked away, leaving Nanny surprised that the girl hadn’t put up a fight.

Julian slipped out of the back door to their rendezvous. She was leaning her supple body against a tree, her eggs forgotten on the ground.

“ Dhulia .”

She moved swiftly into his arms. Her eyes were now a deeper brown, and her hair had a strange sweet aroma. Dhulia was seventeen.

“A time to love,” thought Julian, as he kissed her. She clung to him as though she would never let go. Gone was their innocent childhood. No more would they roam through the woods playing their childish games. Both were acutely conscious of this as they moved apart. Now they were almost shy of each other, and for a while, speechless with embarrassment.

“I’m glad to see you,” Julian said at last. “You grow more beautiful each year.”

They spent the rest of the evening, catching up with each other’s news, re-living old times, until it was time for her to go back to the camp.

“I’ll be among the dancers tonight,” she said, “ Will you come?”

“I will,” Julian promised, forgetting all about his exams.

After dinner, he slipped out to his favorite perch from where he could get a bird’s eye view of the performance.

“ Dhulia danced like a wraith, gyrating back and forth, her footsteps in rhythm with the music, her hands wielding the castanets with skill. There was love in her eyes and ecstasy in her heart, and sitting there in the tree, I knew she was dancing for me,” Julian reminisced, and his skin broke out in goose pimples.

He slyly glanced at the people sitting on either side of him. All eyes were on the stage, and nobody bothered about the pain he was going through.

That night, as he watched Dhulia dance, Julian felt a stab of jealousy at the gypsy hoodlums who were ogling her.

“What code of morals do the gypsies have?” he wondered. “Will my Dhulia be safe among them?”

Parting was very painful that year. He let her go very reluctantly. But Dhulia belittled his fears and laughed.

“I’m very strong, my love. No one can take me by force,” she said

She gave him a warm reassuring kiss and was gone.

The lonely house felt lonelier than ever. His father’s death made it even worse. The old nanny insisted that he should get married. In fact, the thought had crossed his mind too. But there was only one girl in his life who mattered, and she was Dhulia . But how could he take an illiterate gypsy for a wife? He would be moving on to greater things in life – University, career, a place in society! Would such a girl be able to cope? She, who loved her nomadic life, would she rot, wither and die, in his stone castle?

Dhulia returned next year, like a breath of spring. She was more beautiful than ever, and just as irresistible. But there was so much sadness in her eyes.

“My Love,” she whispered, “ They are going to marry me off, this year. What can I do? There’s no way of escape.”

Was it a kind of relief that Julian experienced? May be if he had asked her to marry him, she would have gladly assented. She would have even staked her freedom, for a life of love with him.

Julian took out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead. He needed to breathe, to get out into the open and weep for Dhulia . But he was trapped in this auditorium, trapped with his painful memories. He summoned his bodyguard.

“Could you please bring me a glass of water? It’s stifling in here.”

The guard looked surprised. It was actually pretty chill inside, and the women were all draped in their shawls.

Julian gulped the water, and went back to his dismal thoughts.

“I stifled her fears with inanities. All that crap about loving her till the end of my life!

I suppressed her sadness with an ardent display of passion.”

The summer ended and the gypsies went away. Julian got caught up with his own life and various other activities. He had a large number of friends and there was never a dull moment. He didn’t even realize that five years had sped by.

Then one morning, the gates rattled.

“Eggs for sale. Fresh eggs for sale”

Julian was out of his chair in a flash. A little girl approached with a basket in her hand.

“Would you like to buy some eggs Sir?”

“Come closer,” Julian called. She was a replica of Dhulia , with same brown eyes and hair.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Malliha,” she said, “ Because I’m as beautiful as a jasmine,” she added proudly.

“What is your mother’s name?”

“Her name was Dhulia , and she was very beautiful they say.”

“Where is she now?”

“I don’t know. Dead people turn into stars in the sky, and maybe she’s up there.”

“ Dhulia dead?”

“Yes. She died when I was born.”

“And you have no father?”

“No. I only have a grandmother. Now will you buy my eggs Sir?”

She bent over the basket to show him the eggs. A thin gold chain with a heart-shaped locket fell forward. The last time they had met, Julian had given Dhulia his mother’s chain.

“Come here Malliha. Let me look at you closer.”

Julian was sure that Malliha was his daughter.

“If she’s my daughter, I must rescue her from the gypsies. It will be a way of making amends to Dhulia . A daughter! My own daughter! She will brighten my days.”

He couldn’t wait to talk to the gypsies. That night, he confidently walked into the camp.

“With whom does Malliha live?” he inquired.

“With me,” said an old gypsy lady. The skin on her face was puckered. But she had Dhulia ‘s features.

“What is her mother’s name?”

“It was Dhulia .”

“Then I’m Malliha’s father,” he announced proudly.

“It cannot be,” she said, her eyes looking troubled. She never mentioned your

name to us”.

“But I have loved your daughter all my life, and Malliha is mine.” he pleaded, as he thought of that last day when Dhulia lay soft and responsive in his arms.

A man got up from the group and moved closer.

“Malliha is a gypsy. She can never be your daughter.”

“She is wearing my mother’s chain,” Julian said.

“Then take it and get out. Malliha is ours.”

He almost wrenched the chain from the child’s neck, but Julian intervened.

“No. Let her have it. I have no use for it.”

“Go,” the man ordered, “Don’t make trouble for us.”

Julian walked back to his house, sick at heart.

“I’ll beat them down tomorrow, with more convincing arguments. I’ll tell them how wealthy I am. No child of mine should be brought up as a gypsy.”

He slept poorly that night. After an early breakfast, he went back to the camp. But the field was deserted, and the gypsy camp had moved away, bearing his daughter. Julian had collapsed beside the smoldering woodpile, and cried his heart out.

The compere’s voice brought him back to the present.

“The grand finale to this evening is a solo dance performance by the gypsy girl Malliha……”

Julian held on to the sides of his chair. He was almost afraid to breathe, lest he break the spell. Here was Dhulia come to like in his daughter.

The audience sat mesmerized. Her foot work was exquisite. The delicate movement of her body was as good as any ballet dancer. The crowd clapped with delight. Malliha bent forward and bowed, and the thin gold chain with the tiny heart, fell forward.

As Julian mounted the stage to present the awards, he knew that this must be farewell to his past. There was no recognition in those brown eyes, as she received her award. Had he extended a hand of friendship, he had no doubt that it would have been spurned. Besides, he was a coward.

“What a stink it would create if word slipped out! Apart from political exile for me, it would embarrass the Government. And I must consider my family. Why must they be made to suffer for my youthful indiscretion? This is retribution. This is the secret I will have to carry with me to my grave.”

To the audience he said, “I would like to make an announcement. Apart from the award this artist has received today, I would like to sponsor her for a period of training at the National School Of Dance and Drama, if she will accept my offer.”

The crowd applauded.

“Good bye little Malliha, goodbye my gypsy girl,” he thought, as she raised her brown eyes to his and smiled her acceptance.


The woman in white stood before the shrine of her favourite God, the pot-bellied, lovable figure with the elephant head. He seemed to beckon with his four arms saying “ Make haste with your offerings, dear lady. Don’t you know I have an insatiable appetite for fruits and sweets?”

This was a daily ritual, ever since she had moved into this village five years ago. On her way back from work, she took him a bunch of bananas, a chain of jasmine and a coconut, all carried in the pallav of her sari. She tugged the bell, and the priest with the half-naked torso and sacred thread across his bare chest, eagerly came forward to accept her offerings. He dotted her hairline with sandal paste, and poured some prasadam into her cupped hands. The liquid trickled through her fingers as she stared into the eyes of her comical God. She imagined that he gave her a mischievous smile and a sly wink, and took great comfort from that thought. Then she symbolically raised her cupped hands to her lips as though savoring the prasadam , winked back at the idol and left. The woman never missed this ritual. The silent communication with this cute idol, gave her a measure of peace and tranquillity.

Once, when she was new to this village, she had strayed into the temple precincts, curious to see which of the Gods had been closeted in this shrine, and had instantly fallen in love with Ganesha. Her steps seemed lighter as she wedged her way out through the crowd of evening devotees. Her fair cheeks had a pink glow, and a smile hovered at the corner of her lips. Though just over forty, she looked lovely and at peace with the world. Middle age plumpness had filled out her once sylph-like figure. But it only gave her a new matronly charm.

No one had the slightest inkling from where she had come, and why she had settled down In this sleepy village. One day, the old haunted house that had lain vacant for two decades, suddenly showed signs of activity. Workmen and painters toiled endlessly for a few days, until the neglected house was converted into a habitable home with a respectable façade. The lady who moved in was supposed to be a widow without encumbrances, but of considerable means. An old woman from the village was employed to do her household chores during the day. But at night, the lady stayed alone by herself. In true village fashion, tongues wagged, and people began to wonder about this mysterious woman who invited no confidences and kept her own counsel.

But gradually, the variety of having a lady in their midst, wore thin, and the village settled down in its rut of ordinariness. Pushpatai as she was called, found something to keep her busy during the day. On the periphery of the village was a cluster of shabby huts in different stages of dilapidation. The people who lived here were not only impoverished, but marginalized by the community. They lived in an isolated ghetto, and were permitted to enter the village only to perform their menial tasks. Though many of the villagers were just as poor as this group, they ranked higher in the caste hierarchy, and lorded it over this small community.

Pushpatai, plainly clad in her widow’s weeds, took on the arduous task of bringing about social change in these people. She spent hours teaching the women about basic hygiene, nutrition and child-care. She worked tirelessly with the children, coaxing them to learn how to read and write. She encouraged pride in their traditional crafts and helped them sell their work through an organization which catered to foreign tourists. She berated the men for their vile habits of drunkeness and wife-beating. In a short time, she became their guardian, teacher, confidant and friend.

“ Why does she waste good time on those people?” the villagers wondered. “ Will they ever better themselves?”

“Perhaps she is expiating for past karma by mingling with the low castes.”

But many admired her humility, and her sincere efforts to better their lot. When they saw the increasing prosperity and confidence of these tribals, they were truly amazed. The very people who had been despised and exploited by the rest of them were now coming into their own.

“ The woman is a saint,” said the villagers. Besides, her unfailing daily visits to the temple, established her respectability and genuineness in their sight.

One evening, the crowd at the temple was unusually large. It was shandy day in the village, and people from neighboring villages had come to this place. A darshan of Ganesha before they left, was a must. Pushpatai was jostled and pushed forward by the crowd. Her sling bag fell off her shoulder, and as she bent to retrieve it, she was completely thrown off balance. She struggled to get up, but couldn’t move. She felt breathless for want of air and thought she was going to faint.

Suddenly strong arms lifted her off the ground. But as she looked into the eyes of her savior, she was frozen into wide-eyed panic. Then she swooned.

“ Oh my God! Is it you Sallika?” the man gasped with surprise.

The woman had slumped in his arms. The crowd was making it difficult for him to move.

“ She needs fresh air. Get out of my way,” he shouted.

The people reluctantly pulled back.

“ Where does she live?” he asked.

A Babel of voices answered, as they nudged him forward to her house. He laid her on the verandah, and felt her pulse. It was very feeble.

“ Bring some water fast. Don’t stand there gaping,” he yelled.

The man was worried. He had no had first hand experience in dealing with such an emergency. He remembered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from his scouting days.

The villagers thought it vulgar, and pulled him back.

“ Quick. Someone get a doctor.”

“ What have you done to her you scoundrel? She was as healthy as anyone of us till a few minutes ago.”

“ She’s never been ill for the past five years. What did you do to her? Why were you banging her on the chest and breathing into her mouth, you dirty man?”

Pushpatai’s maid sprinkled some water on her face, and she began to stir as if from a deep sleep.

But the men had already rolled up their sleeves, and hitched up their lungis .

“We’ll teach the intruder a thing or two.”

They grabbed him by his arms and were about to hit him when the old woman said, “ Look, she’s waking up. She’s alive.”

“Where am I? What happened? Why have you gathered around me?”

Pusphatai’s voice was very soft, but she was gradually gaining color.

Then she saw him towering over the other heads. His eyes were anxious as he looked down at her. Pushpatai sat up. This time there was no fear in her eyes. Only determination.

“ Sallika!” he whispered.

“ Who is this man?” she asked.

The villagers turned on him again. “ Go away. The lady doesn’t want to see you. You’ve done enough harm already.”

Govind knew he had to leave. These villagers could turn violent.

“ What brought me to this God-forsaken village if not nemesis.”

He was in the textile business and was passing through to Kolhapur on urgent work. As he was feeling drowsy, he stopped to stretch his legs, and have a cup of tea. But there was no wayside tea shop, so he had wandered through the market, and come upon this temple crowded with people.

Govind walked back to his car but couldn’t bring himself to drive away. He rested his head on the steering wheel and sighed.

“ Oh Sallika, my dearest. Why did I ever behave as I did? I have never stopped loving you. These five long years have been the loneliest ones I have ever spent. I’ve been searching everywhere, and now when I’ve found you, you turn me away. I saw the hatred in your eyes.”

He had always carried in his memory, the picture of a young, pretty girl, who held herself like an Oriental queen. Her skin had been flawless and smooth like the softness of velvet. “My mother never lets me use soap on my face,” she had said, “ It’s always a paste of gram flour and milk with sandal essence. And my bath is perfumed with rose water……”

When he first met her, Sallika was a hostess at a five-star hotel in Bombay . She was a very popular one at that, and earned a fabulous salary, not to speak of the exorbitant tips and expensive gifts that were lavished on her by satisfied customers. She even had a car at her disposal. She had been groomed for this profession, by her scheming mother. Young and impressionable, Sallika thought it was life’s greatest adventure to be in the company of society’s elite gentlemen. Besides, it gave her some respite from the greedy, domineering woman she called “Mother.” However, her entire job was a dispassionate exercise, a profession like any other, springing from economic compulsions.

Govind wiped his eyes with his expensive monogrammed handkerchief.

“ If it hadn’t been for my unhappy marriage, I’d never have drifted into “ Shiraz .”

His was a marriage of convenience between two textile houses. Govind and his bride were merely pawns in their parents’ hands. If she had been beautiful with one commendable virtue, the marriage might have worked. He hated the very thought of going home, and began to stop by at the hotel for a drink. That’s when he met Sallika. She was warm and friendly, but when he monopolized her every evening, the manager wasn’t pleased.

“ If you’re that bent on keeping her to yourself why don’t you marry her?” he said.

There were many hassles. They belonged to two different castes and cultural backgrounds. So they went off to the Registrar’s office, and were married very quietly. The reception at home was stormy. His mother threw tantrums, his father scolded, his sisters sulked, and his wife threatened to go to the police with charges of bigamy.

“ Okay,” said Govind, “If I’m not welcome here, I’ll move out with Sallika.”

Eventually, as in all clannish joint families, a compromise was arrived at. The first wife would be the bahu , and would move into the main wing of the house. An annexe would be at the disposal of Govind and Sallika. But the latter knew it was only a superficial calm. Underneath, cross currents would boil and seethe in a turbulence of hate against her.

Govind could not stop castigating himself.

“ As much as I loved her, I was jealous and possessive. Each time I lay beside her, the monster within me would take possession. I conjured up pictures of her beautiful body in the arms of the men she had lain with. My love-making became increasingly savage and brutal. Sallika must have grieved at these changes. Perhaps she took consolation that she was with child, and hoped that things would get better after the baby was born. She never once complained, and always tried to be cheerful.”

As Govind’s parents knew nothing of her past, he exercised the greatest vigilance and never let her venture out of the house. When visitors came, she had to withdraw into her bedroom. It was prison life, hedged in by four walls, with nothing to sustain her but the child in her womb, and a hope that her husband would love her as before. Govind also made sure that there was no contact between Sallika and her mother. She had been paid off soon after the marriage.

Govind suddenly shook himself out of his reverie. His car had been surrounded by villagers.

“ Get out, Get out,” they shouted, “And don’t dare come here again. We will not have you bothering our Mother . ”

He drove away before they went berserk.

In her room that evening, Pushpatai was a worried woman. “How on earth has he traced me? I thought I had covered my tracks so well. I’ve built a new life for myself. The people here respect me. Must I throw it all up, and start running again? No. I shall not run. He has no power over me. I am obliged to nobody.”

Pushpatai had cut herself off completely from the world she knew, taking on a new identity and a new profession. It had not been easy. From luxury to the bare essentials, it meant sacrifice in creature comforts. The only contact with the outside, was a transistor radio she kept by her bedside. On a shelf stood a row of books on different subjects, and wedged between two, was a copy of the Koran in which she had secreted the photograph of her child.

Sallika’s tragedy began with the partition. Both parents were killed in the general holocaust. A middle aged woman had brought the child up as her own. She blossomed into a beauty. Both mother and daughter moved from Punjab to Bombay , and settled in a respectable Housing colony in Juhu, where filmmakers and movie stars lived. The old lady had once owned a saloon of dancing girls. Now she had only Sallika.

Pushpatai gazed at the picture of her son, and sobbed for the first time in many years. Her meeting with Govind had opened up wounds. She was not invulnerable in spite of her indifferent posturing.

“ My son was born at the end of our first year together. Govind thought he was the spit image of me. We were happy for a year or so. Then once again he became cold and distant. He wanted to have our son to himself. He probably thought that prolonged interaction with me would taint the child. He now had it all – an heir to his textile empire, a legal wife in the other wing simply waiting to drop into his arms! I was redundant.”

One day, he came home pretty late. After days of ignoring her very presence, he suddenly became over-solicitous. Their nightcap of milk stood side by side on a table. She couldn’t see what he was doing, but she became suspicious, when he brought her the glass of milk. This happened for three days in succession. She was terrified that he was slowly poisoning her. She had to get out of the house.

The next day, Sallika feigned illness. She complained of a heavy head and lethargy in her limbs.

“ Perhaps you are pregnant again,” said her mother in law. “ You must visit the family doctor. I’ll tell the driver to take you.”

Sallika got off at the clinic, and asked the driver to return after an hour. No one saw her again.

“Good riddance!” said her mother in law.

“ The bitch has gone back to her old trade,” Govind thought.

Sallika had saved some money during the days of her prosperity. A women’s welfare organization helped her move to Mandargaon, a village that didn’t merit a place on any map of the State. They helped her set up house and work in a tribal colony for which she was paid a small salary that went into her bank account. Above all, they respected her need for secrecy.

Sallika reached for the framed photograph of Ganesha which she kept on her table. She undid the back of the frame. It had held her secret for five years. There was a marriage certificate, and a picture of Govind and herself on their wedding day. Slowly, she tore them into bits. Then she looked fondly at the picture of her boy.

“ You too must go my darling. You never belonged to me.”

She shredded it into pieces and let her tears wash away her past.

As Govind headed towards Kohlapur, he was only glad of one thing. Sallika would never know that her lively young son was found suffocated, with his head dunked in a bucket of water, a few days after she had run away.

“ We Goddamned rich with our stinking intrigues and phoney respectability!” he cursed, as he thought of the mocking and defiant eyes of his first wife, daring him to prove her guilt.

“ At least Sallika is free. The woman in white has moved on, and found peace, while I still wallow in my worthlessness.”


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