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Walking down the hill, chewing on the twig of the lime tree she surveyed the area before nearing the river. Today as most days there was no one by the river this time in the morning. It was dawn, half the Pune was still asleep, it was much safer this time before the morning would break. Sun was not yet up, but the borders of the hill were turning red, they were preparing to greet the sun for the day, bathing in the wonderful bright colours of the sky...the air was cool after the humidity of the night before ,she couldn’t wait to jump in river and have a good swim before she could scrub herself clean.
Enjoying the feel of the cool air on her face she smiled to herself thinking about her escape from her hut, today as well she had managed to sneak out of the house without being noticed by her adopted mother, ‘Tara’. She could picture her mother’s outburst when she would go back to her hut...
’Come back have you finally? And there is no point asking where you were wondering off to... Charuta when on earth are you going to realise the risk of walking around temples, school or gym. , swimming in river......don’t you know what would happen if they ever catch you?... you are a women for god’s sake girl... .. Do you want to end up ruined like other girls in community? you know what happened to Rupali?’’ her mother would shout from near the stove, it was made with three stones in triangular shape with some coal and wood fire in between, with pot on top cooking something delicious for her breakfast...
That made Charuta smile widen, she knew it was their daily routine... her mother knew she would go by river before morning would break to have good swim and a wash, every day. There was nothing more refreshing than a good swim in cool fresh water of the river after the humid night of May here in India, she thought. Her mother ‘Tara’ would shout, scold, bang the pots on the floor in frustration trying to show Charuta how annoyed she been about her daughters adventure but she would make sure that the hot breakfast would be ready by the time Charuta would come back from her adventure. As it indeed was adventure for her, breaking rules imposed by the society, proving to herself that it didn’t make any difference to her what rules they made, proving herself that they couldn’t power over her. It gave her sense of freedom which she starved for and loved as well. Yes.. She loved breaking them rules ... breaking rules specially those which seemed unfair.
Pune,India her pride land, her homeland as much as beautiful it was , it came with few drawbacks of its own. There was division among the society not just as rich and poor, but they were divided into different castes, sub-castes. These were inherited by birth, a high-caste son would be high-caste no matter how low his behavior would be and a Low –Caste son would be Low-caste no matter what, It was a Law, a religious law or so they said. There were high-Caste people like Brah man whose job was to worship Gods or warriors whose job was keep them all safe from foreign intrusion. These high caste members like Brahmins and Warriors enjoyed the social prestige and respect. Warriors were dukes and ministers in Peshawa’s army, the ruler of the pune. While priest were consulted for every occasion, there were very few things done without their approval, even marriages were not allowed till the priest approved, they claimed that they studied astrology, they beleived the stars and planets could actually influence a persons life, they claimed that they could tell if the bride could bring good luck to the groom or not after studying the time and position of the stars and planets at the time of her birth. All others who either feared to disobey them because of the knowledge the priest claimed to have them or actually believed them paid them in terms of gold, jewellery, clothes and rich food as donation. These high and mighty castes enjoyed the luxuries of the life. They had wealth, land, servants running around them to do their bidding.
Then there were artists like pottery makers, cleaners, rope makers, shoe makers and so on, all the artists fell into Low-caste section of the society, who irrespective of their important role in the society were treated ill by high and mighty, They were not allowed to reside in the same village as the High-Caste, They lived away from village making their own Clan. They were not allowed near water, not allowed to use the same road as the high- caste. It was considered as a bad luck sign if you happen to see a Low caste person during a day, it was said that if a Low caste member had been educated by anyone that person would have a life of a pig in his next life and would suffer entire life, they were abused and neglected. Life was very difficult for these and most of them lived in socially abused poverty filled life. Charuta belonged to Low-caste.
These High-Caste didn’t take very lightly on the people who broke rules , she, being a member of a low caste was not supposed to be allowed by the river , her mother’s worry was obvious, she could even face death if she was ever to be found, but playing with danger was what Charuta loved. The priest had believed that letting any low-caste person near river would bring epidemic illness to the whole region, but she had been swimming everyday in the river for nearly four years without being noticed, there certainly was no epidemic illness in Pune, she laughed wondering how the priests would have seizure if they knew she had been breaking the rules, not once not twice but for years..
’’ They never catch me ‘’ she would say ‘’and besides I come with a curse remember, I don’t think there is anyone who will risk their life to lay a finger on Me. anyone who tried to touch me had been dead... everyone knows... you and Kaka worry too much about me ‘’. She would try to put her mother’s mind at rest.
Kaka was more like a father figure for her ,who regularly visited them, bringing them food and for her books. If it wasn’t for Kaka they would have starved like most of their cast members, the down caste.
Her Kaka however was a very well respected zamindar, the landlord, a warrior by Caste. He was from neighbouring village belonging to a very high caste; he had a big house called Wada, with big land surrounding it, not that she had ever seen it but most zamindar’s had big houses and land, she assumed kaka was no different.
Everyone in her clan thought that her mother, Tara, was Kaka’s mistress but It was difficult for Charuta to believe it as Kaka never spent any nights with ‘Tara’, he spent all his time with Charuta, playing with her, Teaching her to read and write, teaching her sword fight and horse riding , he had said it would come useful for her if ever situation arrives. Thanks to him she could read both her native language and English, Clearly. She was the only one in her entire clan who could read and write as a child, for people from her caste were not allowed any education. Charuta however had managed to pass on her knowledge of language that she had learnt from kaka to some of her friends about same age as her, Like her good friend Rupali.
These people survived on the leftovers of the warriors and priests, making baskets, rope and pottery and supplying it to the villagers as and when they wanted, in exchange for stale food and worn clothes sometimes. Charuta was lucky not to struggle for food she was well taken care of by Kaka and her mother. Kaka always made sure there was plenty of food available to them. She had enough clothes even if not very expensive silk but modest cotton saris. She and her mother ‘Tara’ was forever in debt of ‘kaka’. She just never understood why her kaka who belonged to High-caste did so much for them but never acknowledged them in public. If he ever saw her in village away from her house, he would just nod slightly from his horse and carry on as if he didn’t know her or that he didn’t care for her. He would not even say hello, the same kaka who would sit with her for hours reading her stories from the books when he would come to visit them. His behaviour had hurted her lot as a child, she had tried to find a reason behind his differential attitude but had ended up believing that he just didn’t want anyone to know that he knew anyone who belonged to Low-Caste. That he was ashamed of letting people know he knew her. That had hurt her.. and it still did even if not so much as it had when she was a child but it still hurt.
Walking down the slope now towards the river she wondered what could be the reason for it. She stopped by the rock at the edge of the river throwing the twig. She stood up to her full height stretching her arms lifting her face towards the rising sun with eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of the fresh sun , just risen from his sleep. She thought about Kaka and Tara for few seconds..Then she opened her eyes and looked at her reflection in the calm water of the river...
All her childhood she had thought Kaka was her father and Tara her mother even if Tara said otherwise. But now she could see... There were no similarities between her and Tara or Kaka and her...she was different ... she didn’t have the lovely golden skin that Tara had , she was very fair almost white with big dark brown eyes, long lashes and rosy lips and a lovely heart shaped face. At seventeen she had very delicate figure tiny waist long well toned legs and round breasts, Tara however was not as tall as Charuta, she had a lovely curvy body, black eyes and black long hair. That was the only thing that she had common with Tara her black hair, not straight like Tara ’s though. Charuta had waves in her hair.
Kaka had dark brown eyes just like Charuta ... could he be her father?... but he was too young to be her father anyway for he was only thirty two...
She wasn’t sure how old her mother,Tara was. Tara looked very young to be her mother even supposing she was her real mother. They didn’t have a record of Tara’s birth, coming from that caste it was no surprise, the only reason she knew her age exactly was because of Kaka. He said he had remembered and accounted the days since she was found by Tara.
Sometimes she strongly felt Kaka really loved Tara or maybe it was her wishful thinking because she longed to have a father or know who her father was, who her mother was?... Tara had said she found her by the waterhole, as a few hour old baby. Female birth was not something people celebrated in India, may be someone who didn’t want another daughter had left her by the river, it was not much difficult to believe that Tara had found her by the river. How Tara had happened to be by river and so on, she had never answered. ‘’What difference does it make now , Charu? You are here and safe that what it counts.. ’’ Tara, her mother would say ,then carry on doing her work whatever that she would be doing at that moment saying ‘’I have work to do’’, she never spoke much about it or her past anyway. All she knew was that Tara had sold her virtue to a horrible man who had kept her prisoner for a few months, for a meal for her father who was on the verge of deathbed..... Her father had died of starvation anyway for by the time Tara was allowed out of the bedchamber with food for him....... after months. Charuta knew that Tara was not treated well by this person whoever he was... her mother ‘Tara’ never spoke much about it... but the nearly faded scar on her back did.
All in name of religious law.. how unfair she thought, human’s treating human in disgust.
Charuta’s eyes filled with tears imagining the pain Tara must have suffered to see her father die of starvation.. she looked up to the sun , giving away to tears
She never knew her real parents but for her ‘Tara’ was her mother and ‘Kaka’ was her father. She could not have asked for a better life than this ... well at least compared to other people in her clan. Even the curse of ‘’Untouchable’’ worked for her, It saved her from the lustful eyes of men, they feared death if they laid a finger on her, superstitious that they were. Everyone believed that she carried a curse with her, curse that anyone who tried to get intimate with her would die mysteriously. She had never thought the need to find out the truth about the curse herself, looking at Tara while she was growing up and at the distress Rupali, her best friend from her clan, had suffered after she was raped, she did not find any intimacy interesting, as matter of fact she was quite scared of the thought of it, she thought if it doesn’t kill the person touching her, it surely would kill her spirit, like it had of Rupali’s .. and off course she had not found anyone dashing enough to make her pulse race till date ..
It was a common practice by the lords and dukes even priests to bed young girls from her clan for pleasure, even if people from her clan were not socially accepted. But she had been spared from it luckily, Most high and mighty would bed the girls from her clan in return for giving them some food, willingly or sometimes unwillingly .. But they weren’t allowed go to temples or schools, they weren’t allowed any social freedom, social acceptance.
She remembered when she was merely thirteen... one of the priest’s old enough to be her grandfather had grabbed her blouse... she was so frightened...even at that delicate age she knew what his intentions were. She knew what had happened to Rupali who was only a year older than her. She still remembered shivering, she remembered his wrinkly hands all over her bodice ‘let me see if your nipples are as red as your lips’ he had said, She could never forget that day, she had stilled, her limbs had gone freezing cold with disgust and with fear. She had wished that she was dead than to have his hands on her. ... But luckily kaka had come to rescue. He had not told the priest off but He had rescued Charuta from the priest’s hold by interfering, all he had said was ‘’the girl is cursed... you will die for trying to touch her so intimately’’, That was the first time she had heard about her own curse.
She was hurt more, she had hoped he would kill the priest for saying such a filthy thing to her, or even saying he knew her would have had the priest fear for his life for the position Kaka held but all he had said was about curse, even if it had helped her it had hurt her as well.
The priest had said that he was god’s devotee and no curse could affect him but much to her relief, he had released her... she had fled from the scene and stayed in her hut all day crying. she had wondered if Kaka just said that to save her from that filthy priest, or if it was true, but next day the villagers had found the priest’s dead body by the river. No one could find how he had died, there were no marks on his body, he looked as if he had seen a ghost and that’s what had caused his death ......but since then the curse had been stuck to her... the ‘’untouchable’’. Not to mention since that day she had never had any desire to be any close to any man ever.
Thinking about it now at seventeen year of age she only could see it as a blessing. She had seen her friends from the same clan raped time after time by landlords, and wealthy people of the village some of them even priests in temples who otherwise won’t let the shadow of her people fall on their way.
Such hypocrisy she thought..
Many within her community were outcomes of that act but never off course accepted by their fathers. Some girls willingly sold their bodies for food but for most it was either virtue or life, virtue was very expensive commodity they couldn’t afford... She was lucky to have Kaka who looked after her and Tara like his own family... even if he never acknowledged them in public...even if she never knew the reason why?
She felt sad at not able to do anything for the neglected part of the society. She promised herself to grab the first opportunity she could to grab employment, a decent, respectable employment for the people from her clan. She was sure that one day her prayer would be answered and her wish would be granted, she only wished that if was sooner.
The atmosphere around her changed as if standing witness to her promise. She couldn’t hear birds singing any more as if they had felt the pain in her heart... she wanted to see her people happy and at peace. Was there ever going to be a time when she didn’t have to sneak a swim in the river without the fear of being caught? Were they ever going to be equals with others? She wondered.
With new determination she pulled her shoulders back... she wanted to enjoy what she had now and she wanted to thoroughly enjoy it. She looked at the water and smiled...
She unwrapped her sari and left it by the side of the bag containing clean clothes to change into. With only her blouse tied tightly around her breast and an undergarment, she stretched her arms high up and was just about to jump when she heard.
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