Two Windows

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Sahiba watched the beautiful sunrise from the kitchen window with a sombre eye. Shifting her gaze to the tea leaves boiling gently, she wondered at these idiosyncrasies. Her life, otherwise, was a complete cesspool. The only thing she likened to her own ignominy was her rundown shanty.


She turned. Her four-year-old stood by the door, rubbing his eyes. 

Running up, he hugged her legs. Throwing his head back, he looked at his mother with pleading eyes that only a child could conjure up. Ruffling his hair, she picked him up and lulled him back to sleep. Treading softly so it didn’t rouse him, she switched off the stove and carried him back to the only other room in the hutment. 

Placing him carefully on the bed, she covered him to his chin, her hands lingering on his soft skin, feeling some envy. She couldn’t remember the last time sleep hugged her that intimately.  

Loud snores shattered her fragile Medinah and her smile effectively died. The figure next to Imaad grunted and moved. Sahiba stood up, protectively curving her palm around Imaad’s head as she did, so he didn’t rouse.

Softly, she tiptoed out of the room. 

Back in the kitchen, Sahiba poured tea for herself in a steel tumbler. Steam rose, lending an ethereal silhouette to the stove in the early morning light. Picking a well-worn out plastic container from the wall shelf, she picked a few biscuits from it, arranging them on a steel plate, stray crumbs falling hither thither as she did so. 

Settling on her haunches, she sipped her tea softly from the tumbler. She couldn’t get herself to slurp it noisily even after all these years. 

Faint shuffling movements outside her shanty alerted her that life in her slum had resumed for the day. 

Her sensitive ears also heard the other noise in her shanty.

Deftly, she stood up and rinsed out the tumbler. With dexterity, she poured the steaming brew and milk into a cup as she heard the bathroom door open and shut, careful not to have it spill.

The door opened again. 

She moved to one side carefully as he came up behind her. She felt his eyes survey the spread. 

“Okay…,” He grunted picking up the plate of biscuits and the cup of tea. 

She heard him chew noisily while she kept herself busy.  By the time he slurped his tea, she was counting down the minutes to the ordeal. She stiffened when he suddenly spat the tea. The next instant, his hands were on her, pulling her hair and slamming her head against the wall. Even as her stunned self collapsed; another swift kick landed on the side of her head.

“Dumb whore! Can’t you even strain the tea properly? Ruined my entire morning!” 

As she struggled to sit up, her Kameez rose above her knees. Fumbling to straighten it, she saw him pick up the cricket bat.


“No… Khaled….”

She turned to escape but felt her world go black as the bat hit the back of her head. Khaled’s screaming voice echoed. 

“Shameless Cow….” 


As tiny hands caressed her cheeks, she roused from the inky black world she had been shoved into. 

“Wake up, wake up Ammi…” 

She groaned softly as she tried to. Her head felt shattered. Biting her lower lip, she pushed herself up against the wall, subconsciously adjusting her dupatta. Swallowing the pain dawning on her conscious self, she opened her eyes slowly. A familiar fear lurked in the pair of eyes before her. Holding tears glistening like dew drops, from quivering lips emerged a voice that was but another tremor.


She held out her arms even as he bawled and huddled into her quickly. Wincing as he landed clumsily in her cradle, she held him close. It was one thing to endure it herself and another to see what it did to Imaad.  She wondered how many more blows his innocence would sustain before it gave away. It was what she dread more than the fear for her life. 

“Hungry?” She whispered, ignoring the pain as she moved. 

The child didn’t answer, his fists clenching the dupatta, his wet eyelashes hiding his eyes. 

She had him sit up. Looking straight into his eyes, she smiled, 

“How about I make you some keema today? “

Imaad looked at her morosely, but the mention of his favorite food elicited some reaction. 

Scratching his nose, he reluctantly smiled. She pulled his fingers away before he started digging it. 

“Milk first?” 

He nodded. 

“Run, rinse your mouth, I’ll warm your milk.” 

As Imaad ran to the bathroom, she gathered her broken body slowly. Sharp pain spoke to her from multiple areas. As she stood up with some support, she was convinced she felt her bones realign themselves. How was her body withstanding such pain? How was she not dead?


Rukmini woke up early every day for her puja. Another regular habit was to look across her window and see her neighbor up as well. Unlike her, the lady did not go about scurrying, venerating the absent God in their life. Instead, she stood silently, always looking out, her hopelessness reaching across the chasm between them. Rukmini had deep empathy for her. There were things she had witnessed and heard that she wished she never had. At times that were beyond even her suppressed senses, she had landed at the police station but never stepped inside it. 

Her desire to help was always quashed by her own unvanquished demons. Rukmini’s husband wont was exactly like Khaled’s- just a notch or two down perhaps. It wasn’t that bad, she told herself. Especially when she witnessed her neighbor’s ministrations, her husband seemed like an angel given to being human only on certain occasions. The other man, she was convinced, was a devil indeed. 

In the mornings if their eyes met, Rukmini would smile at her however, Sahiba never responded. She would look away, almost like she had muted her willingness to acknowledge life until she had no choice but to respond to it. 

Evenings were always vile. Rukmini would watch as Sahiba’s husband paraded her before different men. She didn’t know if Sahiba had ever protested but having witnessed enough brutalities, she understood why Sahiba didn’t now. Silently, Sahiba would disappear into the adjoining room with a different man each time and emerge only much later. Her very young child, still seemed to understand quite a bit, either huddled in one corner of the kitchen or standing outside the door until Sahiba re-emerged. That simply broke Rukmini’s heart. 

Rukmini didn’t consciously pray for Sahiba but it was hard to be a mute witness to inhumanity and not silently pray for succor.

Like today…

She had watched, horrified, as Sahiba was clobbered with a cricket bat and almost yelled out. 

She felt her husband hold her by her nape and shake her so hard her head started spinning… 

“This is the LAST time I am telling you…. IF you interfere…!”  

“Please… she has a child…” 

“No! Understood?”

Rukmini rubbed the nape of her neck as he released her. Her husband was getting ready to leave. Quickly recovering, she moved to give him the lunchbox and shopping list. 

He looked at her questioningly, 

“Navratri list…” She volunteered, 

He shook his head, mumbling about expenditure as he left while Rukmini sat down, still rubbing the nape of her neck.


Imaad grinned impishly at his mother. 


“Good, huh?”

“Mmmmm…” Imaad smiled toothily, shaking his silky mane vigorously. Tearing a piece of bread, he scooped some curry and leaned forward to feed his mother. Just then the door swung open and immediately the child shrank away. Sahiba covered her head and stood up. 

Khaled looked at both and sniggered, imitating them as he walked over to Sahiba,

“Mother and son. Act like the Kayamat has unfolded. Look at your faces, oh ho oh ho….,” 

“Listen,” He leaned in, the timbre in his voice pure velvet. Sahiba wanted to step back but stood still. He reeked of alcohol and sweat. 

“There are two Sahibs coming today. Clean yourself up. “He turned to look at her and pursed his lips, pulling out a wad of tens from his pocket. “Just go to the beety parlor and tell them to fix you.” 

Sahiba looked at him and nodded. The urge to throw up was overwhelming. 

“They will be coming shortly. Be ready. “Grabbing a piece of bread, he slathered it with butter with a bare finger, the butter sticking in his elongated dirt-filled nail. Folding it, he stuffed it in his mouth, peeking into the curry bowl as he did so. 

“Wah… Keema…. “He grinned through his stuffed mouth, walking away. 

Sahiba’s legs gave away and she sat down. Sensing trauma like children always do, the child walked over and wrapped his arms around his mother, kissing her on her cheek. 

Sahiba didn’t draw him close. 


He shook his head. She unlocked his arms from her neck,

“Ammi has some work. I will go to the market and be right back.” 

Sahiba grabbed the money Khaled left behind and the cricket bat that still made her wince. Smiling at the child, she led him outside where a group of children were playing, locking the door behind her. 

“I’ll be right back,” She told her still pensive child, handing him the bat.


Rukmini was in the kitchen when she saw Sahiba leave but within a few minutes, she spotted Khaled walk in with two men… and then two more. Rukmini forgot about her chores. She knew why they were there. Her heart sank. This time, she couldn’t stop herself. She forgot about her husband who had just come home. Simply slipping her feet into her Kolhapuris, she rushed out. 

Rukmini’s eyes desperately looked for Sahiba as she traced the path, she had seen her disappear into, squinting at every person who seemed to resemble Sahiba when she bumped right into her. 

Without thinking, Rukmini grabbed her arms, 

“You can’t go home now!” 

Sahiba looked at her perplexed. She knew her neighbor, but they had never spoken. She tried to release her arms. 

“Listen to me Behan, don’t go…not now. There are at least 4 men there.” 

Sahiba stilled. Rukmini’s words sank in, and she realized what they meant. 

Rukmini knew what Khaled did to her.

She felt a deep shameful flush rise and spread to her cheeks. She looked down, 

“Where else can I go?” 

Rukmini hadn’t thought of that. Letting go of Sahiba’s arms, she looked blankly at her, and just like that, both women stood for a few, nonplussed. 

Finally, Rukmini spoke,

“My place. “ 

Sahiba looked at her. Her window too had shown her unpalatable gore visuals of the other woman’s life. It had only cemented her feeling of hopelessness. 

Behan, we will think of the consequences later. Right now, my place is safer than yours…, “Rukmini pleaded. 

Sahiba’s foggy head suddenly hit a headlight. Rukmini’s unbridled courage despite her truth evoked an unrecognizable emotion in her. Even if it was just for that moment, it lit a seemingly extinguished flame in her. She finally looked up, sufficiently stirred. And nodded. 

Rukmini grabbed Sahiba’s hand immediately, walking home expeditiously, glancing around furtively to ensure their telling windows told no one where Sahiba was. 

Rukmini’s husband was waiting for her, already boiling at her sudden disappearance as well as his unanswered calls to her. The fact that the phone lay as forgotten as him before his eyes didn’t placate him. Outraged when she walked in with Sahiba, he did not even bother dragging Rukmini inside. As he belted her, Sahiba tried to intervene. 

“Get out of my house before I call the police!” He screamed and turned back to his wife, raising the belt again, “I had warned you…!” 

The commotion got big enough for someone to call the police anyway and Khaled’s guests slunk away to avoid the attention. Khaled’s red face told her it was going to be a bad night and sure enough, it was. Imaad’s screams and broken cries filled the night and the multiple shanties as Khaled beat his wife to a pulp. It was only after 2 am that the whispering in all the neighboring households silenced and the night quietened. Her face almost unrecognizable Sahiba sat in the kitchen, wordlessly caressing her son’s head, his tiny body still racked with sobs.

At 3:30 am, Sahiba saw her neighbor’s kitchen lights light up. Gently placing Imaad’s head aside and covering him with her dupatta, Sahiba stood up. Rukmini was at her window. Sahiba raised her hand and waved at her, but Rukmini seemed lost in her world for a change. Sahiba then flashed her kitchen light a few times to catch Rukmini’s attention. 

Rukmini stilled as she saw Sahiba’s kitchen light flash. Her own body hurt like hell but at least yesterday’s dark night had passed. Even though she could only see her silhouette, she saw Sahiba pick something up from the kitchen. It looked like a can. She saw her bend and then disappear for a few minutes. When Sahiba appeared again, she signaled for her to come out. Rukmini fearfully looked at her bedroom door before making her way out softly. Sahiba emerged with her child in her arms. 

They stood before each other once again- battered and broken yet alive. 

Sahiba handed her child to Rukmini,

“Can you? … and wait?” 

Rukmini wordlessly nodded, anticipating something instinctively. Sahiba smiled and went back in. 

Rukmini patted the child when he moved in his sleep, the prayer on her lips was a constant. 

Suddenly, Sahiba’s shanty burst into flames.  Rukmini jumped behind, horrified even as the passing breeze fanned the flames, making them leap higher. Within no time, people rushed out and there was chaos. Rukmini’s shock wore off. Placing the child down gently on the parapet outside her house, she ran into the crowds screaming, fighting the jostling and elbows pushing her out. 

“She is inside, Save HER!” 

She suddenly sensed something and instinctively turned to spot someone picking Imaad. Sahiba stood a few feet away, well shrouded, and unnoticed in the chaos, covering Imaad and herself with a blanket. Just for a second she stilled and looked at Rukmini. As their eyes met, Sahiba nodded and finally turned, moving away into the alleys of the slum even as sirens rolled. The toll of the day and the shock of the present took over and Rukmini finally collapsed. 


The lady inspector looked at Rukmini,

“So, what happened?” 

“I wake up early to pray, Madam. Usually, my neighbor also wakes up at the same time.” 


“That day also I saw her,  Madam. She was lighting up the stove, making tea…I saw her and then got back to my work.” 


“I heard an explosion. When I turned around the house was on fire. “


“I rushed out. Everyone rushed out.” 

“Some people say they saw a child with you?” 

Rukmini swallowed, aware of her husband’s eye on her, but managed to school a look of utter confusion on her face. 

“What child, Madam?” 

“Hmmm… was she your friend?” 

“Just neighbors, Madam but you see each other every day so…. have you… found anything about them?” 

The inspector shook her head, 

“Not yet, just one body found… burnt to crisp. But traces of kerosene throughout the place…. how indeed ?“ 

The inspector looked slyly at Rukmini, 

“Don’t leave town without informing us….” 

Rukmini nodded.

Khaled was buried after a month.  Few people attended his burial. The buzz around the case slowly stopped. The police too stopped coming around. Rukmini’s life continued as usual. 



A year and some change later… 

Sahiba adjusted her headgear, making her way to the Kabristan at a brisk pace. 

She had waited patiently for over a year before she could come and see Khaled. She knew the risk it posed…

But Imaad had to pay his last respects. 

A busy weekday, she hoped their visit stayed quiet. The Kabristan was quiet and empty. Her heart skipped a beat, and she worried again about watching eyes. Quickening her pace once she spotted Khaled, she made her way to him.

Uttering a silent prayer, she spotted white spider lilies lined across the Kabristan walls. Walking over, she plucked a few of them bundling them like a bouquet. Looking around for her distracted son, she beckoned him close, admonishing him softly, 


As she bent forward to place it at Khaled’s grave, she heard someone call from behind, 

“Are these for me?” 

Sahiba froze. Straightening herself slowly, she turned around, steeling herself for the worst…. 


Rukmini was at the market, buying some vegetables when she thought she spotted Imaad. When she turned to have a better look, he had almost disappeared. Leaving the conversation with the vendor halfway, she made her way through the crowd trying to spot him again. 

Finally, she recognized the back of the child she had seen, hand in hand with a lady in a burkha, their back to her. 

Rukmini followed them surreptitiously… but they were almost sprinting. Finally, she saw them entering the local Kabristan

Her feet almost stilled. 

Was it ….? 

Following them in, she maintained a distance and watched them approach a grave. 

She inched in a little closer. Was it Khaled’s grave? 

She watched the lady walk over to the lilies by the walls, picking them. The child turned just then. She felt elated as she recognized Imaad.

Some emotion overwhelmed her, and she impulsively interrupted Sahiba as she bent over with the flowers…. 


Sahiba stood rooted,  seemingly transfixed. Rukmini. Brave Rukmini. Stunned, they continued gazing at each other wordlessly. An unbreakable bond between two fragile women- a bond built from nothing but two adjoining windows. Sahiba slowly lifted her headgear, tears glistening in her eyes… 

Another mute witness, Time softly altered their chapter with a semi-colon…



Ammi – Mother. 

Medinah– Originally the city of the Prophet, a metaphor for peace or heaven.

Kayamat– Day of Judgement or Doomsday. 

Kameez– Long Upper Tunic, usually worn with loose pleated trousers.

Keema – Minced meat curry.

Sahib– Title for a man typically of authority or social standing.

Beety– slang for “Beauty”.

Navratri – Hindu festival venerating the feminine form of God. 

Kolhapuris – Indian decorative hand-crafted leather slippers.

Behan – Sister.

Burkha – A long loose garment covering the body from head to toe, typically by women of Muslim religion, especially when they are out in the public. 

Kabristan – Graveyard.






















A Mirroring Mind


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