The treasury room had a lone priest. Dressed in a white dhoti and saffron kurta, his head smeared with chandan, panditji* was busy listening to music on his earphones. This made the task simple for Rajwati Devi and Rama. As his attention wavered to see the time, Rama placed a handkerchief laced with chloroform, covering his face. Within seconds he was unconscious and slumped on the floor.
Quickly the ladies picked up the huge box and tiptoed away towards the backyard. It wasn’t an easy task but they executed it neatly as planned. It was a pooranamaasee* night. The full moon was not very conducive for robbery but it was one of the auspicious days when devotees from far away would come and offer their wealth and money to the deity. Devotees came either with the intention of having their wishes fulfilled or when their wishes had been fulfilled.
Conches were blown and bells rang reverently in the temple. The corridor slowly filled with the aroma of the aarti*. Everyone in the temple was so engrossed in singing the aarti that no one noticed Rajwati Devi and Rama fleeing with the treasury box.
Throwing the steel box in the jeep, Rama revved up the engine. Rajwati jumped inside to take her seat. Rama drove as fast as she could, towards the river, without switching on the head lights. The moon illuminated their way. They did not want to attract attention by switching on the headlights. Clutching the handle on top of the jeep, Rajwati craned back her neck to see if anyone was following them. Thankfully, no one was. They had pulled off a clean heist.
Upon reaching the river bank, Rama headed straight to the boat waiting for them. The river was bloated up by the monsoons and the swollen banks lay deluged.
Quickly they offloaded the trunk in the boat and Rajwati Devi bid Rama goodbye.
“Be safe and meet me at home once things settle down. Keep me informed on phone.”
Rajwati whispered to her.
Jai Ma Bhavani*, thankfully no one noticed us running away with this trunk. Wonder what the reaction will be once the theft is caught… Rajwati reflected, after settling on the boat. The moon danced on the surface of the river. The boat moved ahead creating ripples in the water. Rajwati was lost in her thoughts. She closed her eyes for a minute and without realizing drifted off to sleep.
Ma Bhavani was standing right before her. Smeared in vermillion, she looked radiant with a glow on her face which made her look so auspicious. She was holding the head of the demon in one hand and the sword in another. Rajwati gaped mesmerized.
“Rajwati…What do you need in life? What do your actions support?” Ma intoned with her eyes flashing fire.
Rajwati pressed her hands together and bowed down. “All I need is your blessing Mother Divine. I am your ardent devotee. Bless me with good fortune, Mother Divine, bless me. Jai Bhavani… Jai Bhavani.” She screamed loudly and was rudely jolted out of her sleep. The dream was so real that she actually shouted raising her hands with closed fist. Kanhaiya, the boatman looked at her in astonishment!
The boat was heading towards a dense forest. They were now miles away from the town. The jungle looked beautiful and tranquil in the moonlit night. There was not a soul around. The only sound was the splash of the oars on the water.
“We are about to reach the shore. Do you need any help from me?” Kanhaiya asked as she shook herself out of her reverie.
“No bhaiya* I will manage.”
“It looks heavy. Do you need my help in offloading it?” He offered again, looking suspiciously at her. He had never been paid so much to take a lone passenger to such an isolated area at night. Draped in a saree like most of the ladies in the region, the agility with which she moved showed a different level of confidence. Rajwati did not look like any ordinary person. A lady in mid-thirties, she spoke with a quiet authority and conviction.
“No bhaiya, it’s ok.”
Inspite of the refusal, Kanhaiya stepped forward to help her. As he bent down to pick up the trunk at one end while Rajwati ducked to hold the handle, she felt his hands brush her back. Rajwati was taken aback. How dare he! The thought crossed her mind but she ignored the impertinence, thinking it must have been a mistake.
Kanhaiya said manipulatively, “It seems we are alone here.”
She fixed him with a withering glare.
“You have no conveyance from here.”
“Go back. And never tell anyone that you had ever come here.” She said assertively.
“Errrr sure… but what about sharing some loot with me.” Kanhaiya smirked looking at her greedily.
“Hah! So… you want a share!”
“Yes…else you know, police may be looking for some eye witness and…” Kanhaiya replied,
letting the implication hang. He had sensed by now that the trunk was probably ill gotten gains. He smelled money. Maybe his days of penury were over?
“Ok, here you go.” Like a flash Rajwati Devi took out a pistol tugged in her saree and shot him point blank on the head.
Blood pooled around Kanhaiya’s head as he slumped on the ground, dead.
This was not the first time she had used her gun. Though her husband would never approve of it but she was quite comfortable using it. Her tough life had made her a cold-blooded person, who had little compassion for foes. Impassively she dragged Kanhaiya‘s body to the river, weighed it down with some rocks and sank it.
Silence prevailed again. Only the sound of waves forming on the river could be heard. In that moment time stood still. She heaved a sigh of relief as she heard a motorcycle in a distance. She could make out that Dudhwa was approaching.
“Rajwati what was that sound?”
She looked at the water. The moonlight could not hide the blood soaked soil.
“Say nothing Dudhwa. I did this for us, for our family.”
“Dudhwa, don’t we need all the money to go to Dubai? Our children need to be brought up in a respectable manner. We cannot allow them to grow in the same filth as we grew. We need the money for Baba’s treatment as well. Otherwise the cancer is going to gnaw him up. This man was trying to eye our treasure. He was asking for a share. He was threatening to tell the police! How could I give him something which will ensure Baba’s life?”
“Rajwati… who are you to decide his fate? You have committed a murder. Do you even know the consequences? If you are caught they will chase you to hell. You will take us down with you too.”
“Yes, it’s a crime but I have done it for us not for me alone.” She blurted.
“Don’t put this on me or the family. You killed this man! I had given you the pistol to scare off people and for self defense. Not to kill them. I hope the police don’t track you.” Dudhwa shouted in anger.
“Dudhwa, what’s done is done now. Let’s not fight over it. Hurry up and empty the box. We will discard it here. In case police come searching, they will think this mallah* did the crime and his companion ran away with the treasure.”
“Rajwati, don’t change the topic. The onus of your sins will have to be borne by you.”
His words shocked her. She had never anticipated that her husband would not support her. Something in her always told her that she had an unfailing support of her husband, come what may, but she was wrong.
Dudhwa broke open the trunk with a huge stone. The box was filled with money and jewellery donated by the devotees. Rajwati’s eyes gleamed as she saw all that was in the box. Quickly they transferred the money in a gunny bag that Dhudhwa had brought. Discarding the box in the river, they quickly sat on the bike and headed towards home. Dudhwa refused to speak to her. His anger smouldered between them the entire journey back.
It took them more than an hour to reach home. Her father in law was awake, sitting in anticipation of their arrival on his cot. He was quite unaware of the other side of Rajwati’s personality, where instead of being a doting daughter in law, she was a ruthless, cold blooded marauder.
“What took you so long to come back home?” Inquired the frail father in law coughing.
“Baba* remember I was planning to take everyone to Dubai for your treatment. I had gone to the town for some work regarding that.” She tried to cover up.
“Oh, so you are adamant to take us there?”
“Yes Baba! It is for the good of all of us.”
“But our roots are here… How can I leave this place? Once this old man dies you can go anywhere. If you really want to go, GO! but leave me here. I am not going anywhere.” He further asserted.
“Baba… we’ll discuss this later. But tell me one thing Baba, if I do anything wrong like…. let’s say murder… to provide for your treatment…will you not be equally guilty of the crime? After all I did it for you and you gained from it.”
“I have lived a simple life, so that I can die peacefully even with my deadly disease. Your misdeeds are your alone to bear. Ram. Ram. Ram.” He said touching his earlobes reverently.
“I may be a poor man, but I am known for my integrity in the entire village. Now go, take some rest.” He said showing his irritation.
In a pensive mood Rajwati entered the house. Dudhwa had lugged in the bag and hidden it safely. He was still angry and refused to look at her. He took his pillow and went to sleep with his children.
She kept looking at him in a daze. She could not believe that Dudhwa would become so indifferent towards her. She was always there for him supporting like a backbone. But today he stepped back when she needed his support. She felt embarrassed how her father in law snubbed her too. How fervently she was collecting money for his treatment. To the extent she committed murder and crime. But he would not acknowledge this. For him his integrity was more important.
The entire event of looting had taken a toll on her. Planning it for days and executing it, had caused her a lot of mental stress. She settled her pillow on the bed and gently lay her head there. Thinking about how to please Dudhwa she dozed off to sleep.
“Rajwati… You took my treasure from the temple! I did not say anything! But how could you kill a man who was my devotee?” Ma Bhavani emerged again in a cloud of vermillion.
“I did it for my family Ma. They are your children too.”
“Have you forgotten, just like you, he was my child too!”
“Ma I was desperate. I needed the money.
“Rajwati… did your hands not tremble when you shot him?”
Rajwati was shocked to hear this from the Divine Mother. She was also rebuking her, the same as Dudhwa.
“Did your ears not pain, on hearing the cry of the innocent? Repent Rajwati, repent… else consequences may be so bad that it will take several lifetimes for you to come out of it. Your time is running out Rajwati. Repent before it is too late.”
Mother Divine faded into the vermillion puff from where she had emerged. This time her eyes did not flash like fire, but her voice was aggrieved.
Rajwati got up in a shock. It was the Brahma Muhurta*. Mother Divine had blessed her twice tonight. However, during the second time Mother Divine was not happy with her. She needed to amend her ways, come what may.
She was soaked in sweat and guilt by now. She got up to see her children sleeping with her husband. How innocent they looked!
Then she thought of what their reaction would be if they get to know about her reality. She had shielded them from the wild world but one day the truth may dawn upon them and they may turn their back upon her like her husband did today. Baba also showed his annoyance! No, she did not want to degrade her image in front of them.
A bleak ray of light from far east predicted that dawn was about to crack. As the dark horizon filled with the colorful hues of the morning, there was light in Rajwati’s inner self. She felt a shift in her consciousness and made up her mind to change things for a better outcome.
She realized that her redemption lay in spreading the love of the Divine Mother to everyone. With this money, she would open a school for children in her village, give them a secured life by gifting knowledge and education.
Enlightened by Ma’s divine touch, Rajwati vowed to dedicate both her life and her ill gotten gains to social welfare.
The phone rang.
“Rajwati, they have tracked me down. Better watch out, before they reach you.” Rama said huffing, as gun shot echoed over the phone.
Rajwati had to take a call now, either run away and live in seclusion or face the harsh reality, and bring shame to her family. Mother Divine’s words reverberated in her mind.
“Repent, before it is too late.”
Picking up the bag, she walked out of the house. Going to surrender. She sent an sms to Dudhwa. She knew what consequences will percolate with her decision. But that did not bother her anymore.
AUTHOR’S NOTE- This story is a work of fiction, but I have drawn inspiration from the life of the great sage Rishi Valmiki.
Credits: Entire team #SandysDevils
Pooranamaasee: full moon
Aarti: A hindu ceremony in which light with wick soaked in ghee are lit and offered to deities.
Ma Bhavani: a Hindu deity
Brahma Muhurta: A period before sunrise
Photo by: Jyotirmoy Gupta
(This is an entry in ArttrA-4, a room8 writing game at ArtoonsInn. We’d much appreciate you rating the story and leaving a review in the comments.)