Shishir 2018, Short Stories -Satish Somasundaram


Honour and Pride

By Satish Somasundaram


Ravina realised that in the next twenty-four hours she would have either exacted her revenge or would be dead. She knew exactly where they were, what they were doing. She kissed her son goodbye at her friend’s place, and left early in the morning with the excuse of an emergency.


Ravina set off on a bike, a rucksack on her back. The orange sun smiled through the trees, the rays touching her intermittently. She loved the heat on her skin, it reminded her of Ravi's breath on her skin. The fresh breeze, when it caressed her skin ever so softly, reminded her of Ravi too.


Ravina felt the hair on her nape stand as she thought of those passionate moments that were now memories. She’d been married to Ravi for three years, after dating him for four. It was love at first sight for both of them, a magical moment when they had both known that they belonged to each other, forever. They’d lived a life of love and passion that was now just a memory and all she had left.


Ravina was driving at around a hundred kilometres per hour. Ravi wouldn’t have liked it, she thought; she could almost imagine him sitting pillion with her and whispering in her ear to slow down. She thought of how every time they went riding together and he sat pillion, he placed his stubbled chin on her right shoulder. Involuntarily, she now tried to brush her cheek against his. The cold wind touched her instead and, shocked, she almost applied the brakes when better sense prevailed.


It had been like this ever since Ravi was brutally taken away from her. She would hear Ravi's voice, sense his presence, and think of him all the time. She had once told a friend, "We’d been so carefree, so full of love, swimming in this ocean of life. And then, I was sucked into this abyss of darkness. I still cannot believe that this happened. Sometimes, at night, I can still feel his eyes on me, feel his warmth around me."


Riding a bike reminded her of Ravi the most. Ravi preferred sitting behind her, so that he could kiss her, tease her, and hear her laugh. Every time they went riding, no matter who was driving, they both held the handle bars together, driving together. And that was how they lived their life too; one didn’t control the other, they were in it together as equals.

Ravina, in her naiveté, had once believed that she couldn’t live without Ravi. It almost brought a chuckle out of her when she realised it had been five years since he was gone and she had survived. The anger of a life taken, the frustration of a dream unfulfilled was what had made her survive instead. Every breath she took had screamed for vengeance.

She looked at the time. She knew that the people, coming from all over India, would be there at the right time. She had taken care of their travel arrangements, met them a few times, talked and convinced them to help her. She had promised to return the favour. She knew they would turn up without fail. Here upper and lower caste didn't matter. Because one had been slain by the other.


She had returned to the US soon after Ravi’s death; they’d come to India because they wanted their child to be born in surroundings they had grown up in. Fate, however, had other plans. In the US, wherever she went, she felt like she carried the smell of blood and death with her. She thought she smelt of it. She used overpowering perfumes to not give away that she was a dead woman walking the streets and trying to live like a normal human. What is normal even? Is everyone really normal? She’d sneer at her image in the mirror.


On insistence from friends, she’d tried moving on. But she would compare every man she met with Ravi. Obviously, none matched. Eventually she ended up staying indoors, watching movies that made her wounds fester and probed her deeper till she woke from the binge and prepared for her vengeance.


A drizzle brought Ravina back to the present, though she didn't stop the bike. She had travelled this same route for two weeks now as part of her preparation; she knew her way around enough to not be stopped by a drizzle. She’d even spent a couple of nights in the forest, though away from the place where she wanted to seek revenge.


She took a turn to enter a village that connected the road to the reserve forest. In these reserved forests, from eons people propitiated idols and symbols strewn in the most unexpected locations. Her location of interest was adjacent to a stream where wild animals came to quench their thirst. It seemed strange that the wild animals didn’t hurt the people who came to pray to the jungle deity.


Ravina stopped two kilometres from the spot. She took her wallet out of her rucksack and looked at the photo of Ravi and her son. The son who would grow his own wings, like she wanted him to, like his father had wanted. She kissed the photo. She was ready now.


She stared at Ravi’s photo, looking into his eyes for a little longer before putting her wallet back in. She reached the spot and parked her bike under a Neem tree surrounded by a thicket. She shivered. Her head reeled. She found it difficult to move, even after all that she had been through.


Was revenge the answer? She had often wrestled with her thoughts in her waking hours even though, in her sleep, she saw herself swimming in blood. Also, she didn't want to leave her son an orphan; Ravi would hate her if she did that. But seeking revenge won. She had questioned when people talked about a woman being the torch bearer of pride and honour of a family and caste. What were these, pride and honour? She had often wondered if these ‘people’ were real. What would they look like and do in life? Maybe, she already knew and had seen them.


She walked for two hundred metres when she heard their voices. She felt cold, her heart palpitated and she found it difficult to move. She tried to lift her feet; they stayed stuck to the ground.


She cursed herself under her breath. "Come on, you can do it. It's high time. After all they did, you cannot stop now. What was your fault? What was Ravi's fault? All you did was fall in love. All you wanted was to spend your life with each other. Ravi died protecting you. You can’t stop now. You can’t,” she told herself.


"Can I, even with all my rage, go and kill?" she wondered. It was windy and the leaves rustled; the weather report had said it would rain. She got off the trodden path like a stealthy animal and walked along the plants, unnoticed to the voices. She saw them. She broke a plant’s neck.


The voices were the comfort of her growing years, the voices that she couldn't forget even in the faraway lands, the voices that the wind carried to her wherever she went, her guardian voices. How could they be so cruel, so harsh, so unpredictable, so unforgiving, so unflinching?


She saw her parents at a distance — honour and pride; like always they had come together. They came here every year to wash away their sins of the previous year. They were clothed in complete white as was the tradition. Her mom was in a white sari with a golden border and her dad was in white trousers and a white linen shirt with his shirt pocket bulging like it always did with a neatly folded white handkerchief. As a child, Ravina would drop stones and mud and hairpins and almost everything she could think of into them. He always smiled and said nothing even though her mom chided her.


The deity they prayed to was a huge tree-like being carved in limestone. It was as huge as a tree and had roots like a Banyan's. They lighted the camphor and said a prayer each. Then they walked to the stream to take a dip before continuing with the rest of their prayer routine. She stood still, not moving an inch. All she had to do was pick the sickles she had already hidden in the open trunk of a tree and slash them. But she still couldn’t bring herself to move.


With great effort, finally, she reached for the sickles. She ran a finger along the edge of one, and thought of what would happen if they were struck on a body. She had already seen the effect.


“Should I talk to them first or just finish the job and get on with life? Will I have the strength to kill my parents?” she deliberated.


Of course, she knew it was they who had killed Ravi, but hadn’t been able to prove it in the court of law. Her parents had laughed and mocked her then, the farce of the law that she remembered. The assailants were caught, but they said it was due to a prior enmity that they had killed Ravi. But she knew those men worked in her dad's fields.

Out of the four, one had finally confessed to her because Ravina had been good to his sister while growing up. Unable to bear the guilt, he had revealed how they had planned and executed Ravi’s murder.


She saw her parents walk towards her, sodden and muddy. “How am I going to strike them both? Will they overpower me and kill me instead?” But she had trained herself for such a situation. She stepped forth and saw her parents freeze.


Her mom saw the sickle and said, "So you have come to avenge that dog’s death? Stupid bitch!"


Her dad said, "Arre arre my daughter, my daughter, how proud I was of you. But you went like a dog wagging your tail behind love, to that dog." He impersonated a dog wagging the tail. "Love is not only blind, but brainless as well. See what it is making you do."


They didn't try to run, in fact they walked towards her. They had no remorse, no pain or disappointment, as if they had been waiting for this day to come.


She stepped onto the path. "You both have no heart, no shame. How can a man-made writ hijack your intelligence and make you kill people? You both take so much pride in the caste you are born. What is that anyway, enlighten me! Why is your caste above every human need for you?"


"That's what makes us superior," roared her mom.


"Arre, humans always hunted, we are the same. Only, we hunt in a different way. When one from below tries to come up, we can't allow that, because the continuity of a voice is broken down and, in a few years, voices of the great men in our community will disappear. It's important to preserve them, it is our responsibility. We are all sand and, in the end, we will become sand, no difference. But the difference is in the living. We have to live the way our great men have taught us to."


"Did your great men teach you to harm others? Kill people from other castes when they cross your path?"


"Yes, had to kill that dog like a dog only, no?!" Her father roared with laughter rolling on the ground enacting the way Ravi had died. "What's the dog's name, eh?"
Ravina didn’t answer.


"Ok, that dog doesn't have a name arre. You see, by accepting him, we would have been barred from entering the temple we help build, and would have been outcast to our relatives."

"You both always told me that you love me and want only the best for me. But you took the best away from me when it came."


"Don't be a fool, arre. We didn't bring you up for such a life. Girls are our honour; we dress our girls with honour. When their dress slips, our honour slips. That's the way it is with us. Nothing can change that. You, the most intelligent in the entire family, failed to understand such a simple thing. That was a surprise for me. When your Mom told me that you loved that dog, I didn't believe her. If it was your sister, I would have. But you, NO."


"That's the difference, I am intelligent and she is not. I looked at humans as humans and that was all I knew."


Her parents walked past her, dismissing her callously and stood in front of their deity.


"Look at our daughter, oh Devi! Did we give birth to her so that she will come back to kill us?"


"It was you who killed. You killed my husband. You tried to kill me and my son. She protected us," she screamed, shaking with disbelief.


"The day you walked out, we considered you dead. What does one do with the dead? Throw them to the fire or bury them, and that's what we wanted to do with you."


Her hand shook, but she held the sickle firmly. She knew they’d be here any time. She struck the trunk of a tree with such force that one could cook a meal for a family with the chiselled wood.


"Arre arre arre… thooo! Are you even my daughter, ah?! Coming to avenge his death after five years. What kind of avenger are you? Stupid, does not belong to us. Want something desperately, do it immediately, not wait for years and years and years."


"Ask mom whose daughter I am and why I don't belong to you people."


This casual answer with no edge in her voice caught her parents off guard. They looked at each other. In their eyes, Ravina could feel the seeds of distrust as if they saw something sift through, the years revealing something else.


For Ravina, her parents were the paragons of everything good this world stood for. She had always looked up to them until they took away her love. She realised, in that instant, that her parents too were like everyone else when they were growing up, with the same impulses of impetuous youth and the passion of the ages.


The wind howled. Ravina walked around thirty metres as the leaves shivered to the cold wind, dancing their way down. She lifted a spade covered in leaves from the ground, dug and hurled the leaves around. The leaves flew around their deity in an angry whirl. She pointed to the two dug graves.


"This is my mom and dad. I am burying them.” She threw the mud from the mound and looked at her parents intently. She looked at the time. She heard the voices, the hurried footsteps. She saw people, people with anger in their eyes, normal people whom she had placated and prepared for five years. They were the people who had lost their loved ones to such a brutality. A wife, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, they all came in different age groups. She greeted them with a nod and pointed towards her parents.


Twenty men and women looked at each other, unsure about the sickles Ravina had unearthed for them. They held the sickles in their nervous hands. Although they were a mixed group, from the upper and lower castes, they were united in their loss, in their grief of a loved one snatched away cruelly, brutally. It had taken her five years to get them to do something about that grief. She knew she couldn’t do it alone. Only a handful few had come forward, but that was a good enough start.


She walked towards her parents with rage, unlike the way she had walked with Ravi carrying her infant son. They were taking their infant son home in the new car Ravi had bought to take the baby home.


The crowd now surrounded her Mom and Dad. Ravi wrapped his arms around her shoulders, firm, yet gentle. Her Dad and Mom realised there was no escaping. They shouted at her for help, pride and honour, honour and pride. A sickle made its way towards her father. She looked away but splashes of blood landed on her face. Ravi was talking to his son shuuu chuu duutu kuttuu…blutuu blluuu…chimbalu…jumbalu… when she felt his grip tighten on her shoulder. A bloodied hand touched her and the baby’s face.


She wiped the blood from her face and saw her parents’ shocked faces. Ravi’s arm that was wrapped around her to protect her, was cut away brutally. And yet, when the attackers turned to her, Ravi had lunged at them. He ordered her to run, for their child, and when she did, he died with the relief that they were safe.


As she walked away with her blood splattered clothes, she heard the swish of the sickles and the cries of help. The overpowering smell of blood nauseated her. It took all her strength to not turn around. She would be flying back to the US the same night. But she knew she would have to visit now and then to plan and avenge for others as perfect as this one. Everyone went their own way. Ravina set off on her bike. It rained, she was crying. She wasn't able to see the road.


She felt Ravi hold her tight. She stopped the bike a good distance away from where she’d met her parents, took off her jacket and let the rain finally calm the fire within her.



Satish Somasundaram from India is a novelist, entrepreneur, nature whisperer, rock climber, and a biker.




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