When his father had a stroke, Deepak air-dashed to Vizag. Siri, his father’s concubine, said that Mr. Narasimham returned from his usual walk on the beach, had a shower and sat down for puja, facing the morning sun, and chanted slokas with rudraksha mala in his hands. At the conclusion of the prayers, she would bring him a cup of coffee. However, when the familiar chants ceased abruptly, she came out to the veranda to find him sprawled on the floor, unconscious.
A few years back, after his wife’s demise, Mr. Narasimham brought Siri—a low caste lass, from the village where he owned paddy fields and fruit orchards and other cash crops. His daughters, on their periodic visits to check on the old man, would wrinkle their noses at the sight of this pariah—young enough to be the patriarch’s granddaughter. Still, out of love and respect for their father, they tolerated her. Ignoring the chorus of quiet condemnation—haughty looks and hostile glares, the comely concubine with her come-hither looks and sensuous gait, serenely supervised the cook and the maids and the gardener. Deepak felt it was not his place to censure, but secretly saluted his father’s taste; he sure knew how to pick them.
On Deepak’s visits to Vizag, the meticulous Siri made sure that his room was ready—clean sheets, banked towels, fresh soap and shampoo, and that the cook prepared his favorite dishes. Frankly, he was looked after much better than at his own house in Bangalore, where his busy wife, Vani, had very little time to bother about the household.
Mr. Narasimham went into a deep coma and since his recovery seemed extremely remote, the doctors detached all those futile tubes and sent him home to pass on in his own bed, surrounded by his children.
Deepak, the only son, performed the last rites. His two sisters and brothers-in-law helped with the arrangements and received relatives and friends who came to express condolences. Deepak was extremely embarrassed when Vani, a lowly academic with plenty of vacation days, was unable (unwilling, more likely) to attend the funeral, while his wealthy and busy brothers-in-law, who rubbed shoulders with magnates and ministers, came all the way from Bombay and Delhi.
To escape the constant cacophony of continual callers, Deepak strolled to the park right across the house. Children screamed on swings, squealed on seesaws, and slid speedily down the smooth slides. Adults, while keeping a watchful eye on the boisterous boys and girls, sat on weathered wooden benches and listened to the evening news on All India Radio blaring from screechy speakers. Prime Minister Modi congratulated President-elect Trump. Mr. Modi met with visiting Iranian dignitaries in New Delhi. Pakistan-sponsored terrorists infiltrated Indian territory to murder innocent civilians. And the local weather, a depression in the Bay of Bengal and torrential rains.
Away from the hullabaloo, in a far corner of the park, Deepak slumped on a bench. He would miss his father and his wise counsel which navigated him through the rough seas of life. Relatives and friends looked up to the old man who helped many poor relatives with money and food, and in some cases even performed their daughters' weddings at his big house.
Averse to sullying his father’s good name, Deepak disagreed with his sisters who were determined to unceremoniously pack off the penniless paramour. He thought, "Without hurting Siri’s feelings, I should send her back to the village with sufficient money to survive until she finds a job. This big town, with its pimps and prostitutes and other assorted crooks, is no place for this simple girl." No longer the de facto mistress of the household, a cowed Siri ceased to flit around like a hummingbird to order the help. He felt that, at another time, at another place, if only her intrinsic birth did not prove to be an albatross, Siri might have had access to education, paving the way for a proper job and better life.
Hearing a discreet cough, he looked up. Siri, her head bowed, asked, “May I speak to you, Sir?”
Deepak patted his side, but she hesitated. He smiled, “If you continue to stand and admire the grass, we can’t talk, can we? Please sit.”
She smiled shyly and sat at the edge of the bench. “Sir, I’m sorry to disturb you. B-b-b-but, I just couldn’t get you alone in the house. Sir, I can’t go back to my village.”
A puzzled Deepak said gently, “You know the house is gonna be locked up. We’ll not be needing any help. So….” He hated to be curt and left what he had in mind unsaid.
“C-c-c-can you take me to Bangalore? I can cook and clean.”
“That’s a great idea, ah, you are reliable and efficient. Yes, yes, lemme think about your case carefully.”
“Sir, if you send me back to the village, my husband will torture me.”
Deepak was surprised. “I-I-I didn’t know you are married. So, he lives in the village?”
Her face was clouded for a brief moment and she sighed deeply. “Yes, sir. My father married me off to that asshole. I was only fourteen. See, not many girls in our community. Father got good money for me. But at that time I didn’t know that the husband will share me with his two brothers. They were like animals, ah, um, I got scared, um, ran back to my parents, ah, um, my father beat me and returned me. So, every night those three men, um, they, they….” She became teary-eyed. “If that was not bad enough, my husband used to get drunk and beat me up. He’d do very bad things, um, ah, burned my body with cigarettes, and, and, other beastly stuff.” She choked up at the painful memory of the brutality. She blew her nose. “I got fed up and chopped off his hand.” She said it calmly as if that rascal’s hand was no better than a chicken head.
Although aware of the paucity of a pool of marriageable-age girls due to abortions of female fetuses and cruel killings of newborn girls in many parts of the country, this was the first time he had come face-to-face with its consequences. Still, he just couldn’t believe this modest maiden’s bold act. In his view, that blackguard had gotten off rather easily.
“Siri, how did you actually do it?”
“Sir, very simple, that scoundrel passed out after too much toddy. I went outside, got an axe and thwack, that’s it. Hand on the floor, blood everywhere, he screamed blue murder and tried to chase me. I ran very fast all the way to Big Sir’s, ah, I mean your father, house, um, before the bad guys got their hands on me and gagged me, and, and, ah, um, I worked in Big Sir’s fields, he’s the big zamindar, very kind man, sir. He saved me Sir, he really did.” She rubbed her thumb and first two fingers to indicate the role of money. “Sir, I became Big Sir’s property. As long as he was around no one dared to touch me. But, now…” she shivered, “They will use me mercilessly, they will hurt me every day. Death is much better. But they won’t kill me, see they need my snatch.” She sobbed silently. She wiped off the tears with her pallu, “Sir, you are the son, now all Big Sir’s property is yours. So, now you own me. You can do anything with me. If you don’t help me I’ll kill myself.”
He was saddened at her vulnerable position. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure, ah, no one will hurt you. You have my word, okay?” he patted her.
As per the age-old Hindu traditions, Deepak—the scion, inherited all the property—movable as well as immovable. Mr. Narasimham bequeathed his wife’s jewelry—considerable amounts of gold, silver, pearls and diamonds, to his daughters, and ten lakh rupees to Siri.
The house was, at long last, quiet and peaceful. The relatives left, and his snotty sisters returned to their big cities. Now, no longer harassed with conflicting commands of the two ladies, the cook’s demeanor improved and delectable dishes again appeared on the dining table. Once again, Siri took charge of the household.
Sipping a cold beer, Deepak reviewed the situation. Overseeing the estate would be an onerous job, though not full time. His father went to the village almost every week, for a couple of days, to keep an eye on the manager and workers. And during harvest time, he camped out in the village to safeguard the produce. But Deepak lived too far off to make such weekly trips. In his absence the manager might be tempted to cheat him. As his father was fond of saying, he who holds the honey is bound to lick his fingers. The alternative, sell the farms and the orchards, would be a pity as that land had been in his family for several generations. And if he were sell it off, his father would definitely frown from his celestial abode up above. Deepak told himself, "It is imperative I return home for good."
Now, he had the unenviable task of convincing Vani to move back to Vizag. Actually, his parents were deeply disappointed at his decision to move to Bangalore. Deepak enjoyed his work at the shipyard, and had a good social life. But then his arranged marriage turned out to be troublesome.
In the beginning he was happy with Vani, who at that time was a junior faculty member at the university. But when Vani landed an academic position at the prestigious Gandhi University in Bangalore, things got complicated. His parents didn’t endorse the move. In fact his father, a much respected Dean at the local university, scoffed at the idea, saying that Vani would be a small fish in a sea of sharks. But Vani brushed it off.
A well-trained engineer, Deepak had no problem finding a job at a multinational company in Bangalore. But he was unhappy in that big, bustling city and missed his home town, his parents and his childhood friends, now in important positions at Vizag. Also, he missed the beach and the sapphire waters of the Bay of Bengal. Vani, on the other hand, happily hurled herself into work.
To clear his head, he stepped out of the house and walked aimlessly on the beach and gazed at the white sailboats in the blue waters of the bay. He thought, "They better sail back to the marina before the storm hits." Munching freshly roasted peanuts, he enjoyed the sound of waves—swish, swish, swish—and the intermittent foam caressing his feet and the squish of the soft, wet sand between his toes. He playfully threw a peanut up above and caught it with his mouth. Seagulls squawked, a foghorn sounded at a distance and with the gradual setting of the sun and the concomitant twilight, the beacon of the light house began to appear brighter by the minute. As the tide rose gradually, he bent down to fold his pants up to his knees.
Suddenly a big wave hit the shore and children playing in the water shrieked back to their guardians. Wet up to his thighs, he nonchalantly continued his sedate stroll. And yet another violent wave surged and he lost balance and was flat on his back, staring at the blue twilight. He shivered at the cool breeze, and to get warm he jogged briskly back home.
He got rid of his clothes in a hurry and showered in the outdoor shower stall. At the roar of thunder and flashes of lightning, he wrapped a towel around, and ran into the house. And then it started to pour; torrential rains hit the roof and the window panes and the winds howled and the tree branches shook.
When he went into the dining room for a beer, Siri said, “Sir, dinner’s ready,” and motioned him to the head of the table. While she carefully poured the ice-cold liquid into a frosted mug, he was amazed at her transformation, from conservative to contemporary. In a snug-fitting hipster sari, revealing slim midriff, and a sleeveless blouse baring slim arms, she looked stunning. Swinging her shapely hips, she sashayed into the kitchen, and in a few minutes rolled out bowls of steaming white rice, sautéed eggplant slices, stir-fried colocasia rounds, and lamb cubes in a red sauce. She placed a mound of rice at the center of his plate and small portions of other items around it. Aware that he liked to read while eating, she brought his iPad and went back to the kitchen.
He thought, I’m getting used to all this pampering; it will be hard now to eat the tasteless food of that cranky cook in Bangalore. One more reason to return home for good. But, he questioned whether Vani would be willing to swallow her pride and give up her futile struggle to soar with the stars of science—disciples of Nobel Laureates and products of Ivy League schools.
The lashing rain continued to pelt the windows and thunder boomed and lightning flashed. The sound of the fierce surf hitting the shore reached the house. At this rate the big waves would definitely pound the high embankments, and the low-lying areas might be flooded.
In the cozy living room with a book in his hand and small whiskey by his side, he was glad to be indoors. And then the lights blinked a few times and went off, as if giving up the fight with Mother Nature. Enveloped by pitch darkness, he stumbled his way to the mantel for a flashlight.
Getting ready for bed, he heard a gentle knock. He got hold of the flashlight and opened the door. In the dim light, he saw Siri in a translucent nightie. “Sir, I’m scared, thunder and lightning, ah, very, very dark,” she shivered, “c-c-c-can I sleep in your room?”
Without waiting for an answer she simply unrolled a coir mat.
“You shouldn’t sleep on the hard floor. Don’t we have a camp cot in the store room? Come, let’s get it.”
They went to the other end of the house, and opened the storeroom. A rat scurried past and Siri screamed and clung to him. They dusted off the cot and carried it out. Then they brought a mattress from the guest room. They both laid down on their beds, wide awake.
She said, “Sir, sorry, I spoiled your sleep.”
“No worries, with all this loud thunder and bright lightning, how can anybody sleep?”
“Sir, did you think about my case?”
“I’m still thinking.”
“Lemme help you think faster.” She simply came to his bed and started to go down on him.
Holding her sinewy shoulders, he gently pulled her up. “No, no, no, we can’t, ah, um, you and my father….”
She laughed merrily and doubled over. “I fooled everybody, even your sharp sisters, ha, ha, ha.” Still laughing loudly, she wiped her eyes. “Sir, a single woman is a fair game to most men. If I didn’t pretend that I’m Big Sir’s woman, the driver, the gardener, the handyman, ah, even that lousy milkman with his front teeth missing, they all, um, you know what I mean….” She sighed and snuggled up to him. “I know you want me, the way you looked at me from the very beginning, ah, when I came to this house, ha, ha, ha, you can’t fool Siri.” She slid out of her nightie and playfully squeezed his hardness.
Pleasantly tired after their amorous encounter, the satiated couple drifted off to sleep. And the raging storm continued to cause havoc.
In the morning, when he opened his eyes, he was all alone in his bed. He recollected her lush body, her musky smell, and her earthy and eager exploits. Warm and vocal, she gave herself fully and freely. Yet another, very important reason to return home for good.
Siri knocked and walked in with a steaming cup of coffee. She drew the curtains and sunlight poured in. “Thank goodness, the storm has gone out to the sea.”
He sat up against the headboard and sipped his brew. “Siri, thank you for everything.”
“No need for that, sir. I’m now completely yours.”
She dropped her nightie and stood completely in the buff. Nutmeg nipples on the brown globes, black bush between the fleshy thighs beckoned. When she put her hair up, he found her hairy axilla strangely titillating and held out his arms. She kissed him on his lips and slid her hand down. “Did you think about my case, Sir?”
He cupped her perky breasts and gently rolled the nipples between his fingertips. “You didn’t give me much time to think,” he chuckled.
She laughed vivaciously, “Maybe I leave you in peace, and then you can think of my case, right?”
He caressed her firm buttocks and suckled her erect, pebble-hard nipples. “I’m joking, yeah, yeah, I’m gonna stay back, try to get a job in town and manage the land. So, you don’t have to go anywhere, okay, now your case is closed.”
She giggled, “Case closed, base open. My base will always be open for you, only you.” She guided him into her portal to paradise.
Glowing with the intensity of the moment their bodies entwined in a state of bliss.
Her head rested on his broad chest, she listened to his rapid heartbeats, and wiped the glistening sweat beads on his forehead. “Sir, can I use the money Big Sir gave me, ah, um, to go to college?”
“But did you finish high school?”
“Yes, sir, I mean I passed matriculation, equal to high school. Big Sir sent me to tutors to learn English, Telugu, Science and Math and History and Geography. Big Sir was gonna enroll me in college, but…I’ll miss him, he was very good to me.” Her lips trembled and she began to sob; teardrops fell on her cheeks like pearls.
He wiped the tears and stroked her head, “Siri, the money is yours to use as you like. I’ll help you with the college application. What do you wanna major in?”
“Computers, there are lots of jobs.”
© Rudy Ravindra
Bio: Rudy Ravindra lives in Wilmington, NC. His fiction has appeared in New Mexico Review, Lunch Ticket, Route 7 Review, and others. More at: http://rudyravindra.wix.com/rudy