Even then Tara could not utter a single word. She stood there like a log.
“I am that Tara. One among the Panch Kanyas whom you need to remember in the morning as your mother, grandmothers may have advised you or your father and grandfathers may have narrated to you,” the woman looked at Tara and said.
Tara was looking at her in utter amazement. What is she watching? What is she listening to? She failed to understand!
“You have been running a long distance. Now you are walking barefoot. It appears as if you are not bothered about anything- not your life- not your body-not your mind, isn’t it? You feel like you would shred everything, tear everything, burn everything, destroy and throw away everything? You have lost interest in all. Let life flow on its own, let anything happen. You don’t care two hoots for it. Yeah?” The woman kept asking Tara.
Tara could not utter a single word. She kept on looking at her bewildered.
“You only want to sleep on the road now, to keep looking at the sky lying here, to disappear in the forest, to jump into the deep river. You have given up on home, wealth, respect, everything, true?”
“How do you know?” the words came out of her mouth. “Yes, yes I feel like that. Everything is finished for me. The past is getting extinguished like the letters from the slate get wiped off with a wet cloth. But how did you know?”
“I will talk about it afterwards. First let me know about you. As it is, I know about all the Taras. I have lived the life of Tara!” The woman sat down facing Tara.
There was silence all over for a while. The woman and Tara looked at each other. The woman appeared as if she was sitting, and Tara was standing. The night was getting deeper. Stars were spread over the sky. The forest in front and behind became denser.
Suddenly she felt cold. It appeared as if the bones inside her were shivering. Her ears and nose had turned to ice and her eyes were full of tears. Is this the state before death? Tara came closer to the woman.
“I have tried my best to keep Sudhir happy and be happy through him. I loved doing that. Friends used to comment that our honeymoon was getting longer and longer. And that was true as well.” Tara kept quiet for a moment.
“For past one year it appeared as if Sudhir was becoming restless. He did not share anything even with me. Sometimes he used to say that there was a lot of pressure at work. I was very troubled. I felt like running to his office and comforting him. I wanted to stay close to him, stroking his head and making coffee for him when he was tired. For the last few days he was getting back around ten in the night.” Again, Tara remained silent for a while and looked at the sky by tilting her head backwards.
“Let the words flow …Speak up my girl. You will feel better.” The woman said very slowly.
“He had been time-and-again mentioning his promotion for the last one month.” Tara heaved a deep sigh. “He deserves to get the post of vice-president of the company. He is managing a lot of work with paramount efficiency. No one can indeed match him. Yet he may not be able to get the position just because he is too young. I was trying to understand his stress. His efficiency at work is, in fact, beyond comparison.” Tara stopped for a while and looked at the nearby forest. In front of her, darkness appeared like a chain of mountains. “It would have taken him almost ten years to become the Vice-President from the position in which he was working now and may be by jumping two more positions. Even if he left this company and joined another company there was no hope that he could be identified for the promotion very soon. He was in despair. He appeared quite distracted for the last three days. He did not say anything, even though I asked him a few times.
This morning he asked me to be ready for dinner at eight in the evening.
"Please put on that golden saree with the sleeveless blouse, you look beautiful in that," he said. "I was very happy. As it is there is always some party or the other in the office once in a week or in ten days”. She paused for a moment. “When we were travelling in the car, without looking at me, Sudhir had mentioned that dinner would be served in a private room. There were these two big rooms in the hotel. They were well decorated. In the middle of one room there was the dining table on which dinner was to be spread out. Expensive drinks and foreign liquor were placed in style on a side table, a private bar. I did not know the person who welcomed us. I gave a questioning look to Sudhir."
"I am Dhruv Arora"- The middle-aged person said in a soft voice, bent slightly forward and extended his right hand towards me. I reciprocated by putting my right hand forward.
"He is the chairman of our company," Sudhir whispered into my ears. We sat down on a very comfortable sofa and started chatting. Dhruv Arora got up to fix the drinks. Sudhir requested him to sit down and moved towards the bar table where the drinks were arranged. He poured some orange juice for me in a glass and passed it on to me.
Dhruv Arora said – "Give her some real drink".
"She does not drink, Sir" Sudhir smiled at me and I nodded without looking at anyone.
The setting got thick. Suddenly Sudhir stood up and said- "The ice cubes are finished. I’ll just run and come back with ice from the reception." Dhruv Arora stopped him and said that the room service could be called over the phone. Sudhir replied that it would take a long time and he would get them instead. He said those words, stood up, opened the door and left. The door closed after him. Fifteen minutes passed, twenty minutes passed. Sudhir did not appear. Where did Sudhir go? Anyway by that time both of them had taken three pegs each. I was concerned.
Dhruv Arora said- "Don’t worry Ms. Mahapatra, he must be on his way. He must be smoking."
"He doesn’t smoke," I replied. I was indeed feeling restless. By then another ten minutes had passed. How long will I sit alone like this in front of Dhruv Arora? What would I discuss with him? I felt as if he was devouring me with his stare. I opened my purse, took out the mobile and dialed Sudhir’s number. Sudhir’s phone was switched off. Impossible! I tried again. The mechanical voice reverberated.
"How strange?" Words burst out of me.
"He is not carrying his mobile perhaps," Dhruv Arora said.
"Where is his mobile? It is not here," I looked over both sides of the sofa and at the top of the bar table.
"It is not here. How is that his phone is switched off? Where has Sudhir gone?"
-‘Why are you so worried? He must be on his way. Maybe he has given us this opportunity to enjoy this evening together. This is a great opportunity, Tara! What a wonderful name! I had only seen taras in the sky till now," Dhruv Arora smiled.
"What happened to Sudhir? I will go and look for him."
"Oh no. Please relax. Wouldn’t he come back? If nothing else works he will set water for freezing, make ice and get it." He appeared amused with his sense of humor.
"I will go and check.". I stood up resolutely and suddenly my feet tottered. I felt as if my head was spinning and I would fall down. Why did that happen? Why did I feel so? I only had a glass of orange juice and that too Sudhir had served me.
"Oh Tara! You will fall down." Dhruv Arora was by my side in two huge strides and caught me by my shoulders. "Sudhir is a talented young man. He is worthy of becoming the Vice-President. You will see he will go to the very top. And behind every man at the top there is always a beautiful woman- Just like you Tara!" He laughed at his own words.
"You are very pretty," Dhruv Arora sounded husky and stretched his hands to hug me. I could not understand what was happening.
"You must have realized this is very common nowadays. These facts about enjoying life and climbing higher and higher – you must have understood. Sudhir is a person who understands things and sky is the limit for him." Dhruv Arora was trying to impress me.
Suddenly something inside me struck like lightning. My reeling head became steady. My consciousness was awakened like a soldier facing the enemy. I could apprehend what was going to happen. I did not know how I could muster so much strength. I pushed Dhruv Arora and removed his hands off me with force. And then I turned my face and ran towards the door. I ran down the stairs. I did not even think about the lift. I didn’t know if anyone was present in the reception hall or not. I was running in one direction. I felt as if someone was chasing me. And I have reached here.”
Her voice choked. “I don’t have my mobile phone; I don’t have my purse; not even keys to home; nothing at all. I...” She covered her face with her palms and burst out crying. All the suppressed sorrow hidden inside her till now flooded and shook her lean body.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry, my girl. You remember, I am Tara from the Tretya Yug.” I am that character of Ramayana- Tara. I am the wife of Bali - the Almighty, ruler of the kingdom of Kiskindhya, the king of monkeys. After the death of Bali from Ramachandra’s arrow my world had been shattered. I did not notice anyone beyond Bali and nothing existed for me beyond him. The blood-stained body of my powerful husband, covered in dust and lying on the ground and the realization that his life was coming to an end was enough to make me lose my consciousness. I started crying as to how I would I live in Kiskindhya without Bali and how Bali would live without me in heaven. I requested Rama to shoot an arrow at me and kill me. Rama tried to pacify me with his sweet words of principle. Hanuman constantly reminded me of my young son Angad.” The woman paused for a while.
“Sugriv became the king of Kiskindhya and ‘acquired’ Tara – the wife of the valiant Bali. I was owned by him. In other words, I became his mistress. In return, my son Angad, the son of the great warrior Bali was coroneted as the crown prince. From that day, I started drinking and it increased day by day. I could never pay heed to Sugriv’s advances in full consciousness. Only drinks could help me get over my guilt, my sorrow, my regret…
After regaining the kingdom Sugriv immersed himself in fun and frolic. Just like he had enjoyed royal pleasure after he had left Bali inside the cave after blocking the opening of the cave with a big boulder and forgotten all about him. He might have forgotten the promise he made to Lord Rama or maybe he was ignoring it. After a while, an angry Lakshman cut through the natural beauty of the mountain Prasavan and came to the royal palace of Kiskindhya city, his eyes burning, his body writhing in anger. He kept pulling the strings of his bow and created strange sounds that generated fear. That sound made Sugriv shiver in his bed when he was with me. He repeatedly asked me in a shaken voice to go to Lakshman and appease him. Though I was under intoxication, I still had to lift myself up and with some effort stood in front of Lakshman in a drunken shaken state. As soon as Lakshman, who was practicing brahmacharya, cast his eyes on me and caught a glimpse of my condition, he lowered his gaze and put away his bow on the ground by his side. I pleaded with him in all earnestness. My face turned red in shame and disgrace and yet I tried to make Lakshman happy with my sweet words. Even in that pleasant cool autumn night my body was sweating profusely. I cannot forget that time, my girl. I could not even look at Lakshman. I met him last when I was crying over the arrow-stricken body of Bali. And then he saw me in that drunken state! Once again, I was used for my own security, for the security of my Angad.
Don’t know what Angad must have thought of me! Had he not been depressed that his mother submitted to the killer of her husband, murderer of his father? He must have definitely been in deep sorrow. Even if he has been pronounced the crown prince of Kiskindhya, the would be King, he could not have been completely happy.
And I? the person whom I should be cursing, should be sentencing to death, avenging the murder of my husband, I let myself be taken by him. Do you understand, girl? That death could have been more glorifying. I was haunted by the realization that I should have died with Bali. How could I compromise my situation? Why did I allow myself to be used by Sugriv?
I have been sitting here for ages - since time immemorial. I am sitting here to resurrect myself. I am considered powerful; I am accepted as intelligent. But in reality, what am I indeed? What am I? What did I want? Did I desire to be used as a pawn in the chess game of loss and gain in politics? Would a woman be used through her body always? I have been asking this of all Taras for ages. I am asking you as well. What do you want? What do you desire?” The woman advanced towards Tara.
"Can you get me freedom? Can you liberate me from this state of being Tara-the Tara?" The woman who claimed herself to be Tara looked at her and screamed.
Her voice and her words made the air and the sky shudder! Tara shivered all over, her eyes clasped tightly. Only the voice of the woman resounded in her ears. She closed her ears with both her hands and with her eyes closed she screamed back- “Yes, yes…” In the next moment she could not fathom what was happening to her. She felt as if she was flying in the darkness.
Tara did not even glance at the security guard standing at the hotel gate. She went straight in and entered the ladies’ toilet like a friendly guest. She had her purse in her hand, her mobile phone and the keys of the house were in place. She put them aside and took out the powder case and the lipstick. She freshened up her face and combed her hair. She wiped under her eyes with her handkerchief and looked at the reflection in the mirror. No, now it did not look like she had been crying for a long time. She looked at her feet. They looked nice in the golden pair of stilettoes. Tara arranged the golden bordered saree smoothly on her shoulder and walked towards the lift.
Dhruv Arora was stupefied when he opened the door of the room. His lips parted and he stood with his mouth agape. Without caring for that she entered into the room and without turning back she locked the door with her hands backwards, all the while fixing her gaze on Dhruv.
"Sudhir”- Dhruv Arora blurted out. “I had only asked for once. There is nothing in this. Please don’t take it otherwise. Even Sudhir…” He stammered while trying to complete the sentence. After Tara had run out of the room, he perhaps gulped a few more pegs out of disappointment.
“Why? Why only once? I can come to you many more times. Here or anywhere,” Tara looked at Dhruv Arora and said softly.
Dhruv Arora kept on gaping at Tara perplexed.
“Sudhir’s…” Tara opened her mouth again.
“Yes, yes Sudhir…” Dhruv Arora made an attempt to sound excited.
“Oh yes, Sudhir will definitely get his promotion. He is a very talented young man,” Dhruv Arora said in a hurried manner.
“I want that Sudhir should never get any promotion in his whole career. Never ever.” Tara uttered looking straight into the eyes of Dhruv Arora.
(Translated from Odia by Gopa Nayak)