Destiny’s Hand

They were asking: “Why did he throw his life away like that?” Theories had already been developed. There were only two persons in the whole city who could provide them with non-theoretical answers: Chandra Bhaal and Somnath. They would not tell the truth to anyone; not until the next day, and that too, only to their mother. She did not reveal the truth to anyone, not even among the members of the family, for the next seventeen days. They all called Destiny cruel and its hand invisible.

They had never suspected that their locality would ever have to face such a crisis. There were many muhallas where Hindus and Muslims had a mixed population pattern and many where one of the two communities was predominant. Jabalpur was never notorious for being riot prone. They had heard some stories on those lines by some old timers, but never experienced it as an imminent danger. Well, 1961 in Jabalpur was to become a watershed in the history of communal riots in India. Pandit Nehru was appalled. The whole country was shaken. Jabalpur riots had taken many lives, and Sambhav’s was one of them.

They said there was destiny’s hand in it. How would Sambhav know that between the fifth and ninth of the month only one Hindu would be killed in the riots in the whole district, and that would be him? How would he know that he was to die near Anjuman Islamiya School, not more than nine hundred metres from his house, yet he would not see his wife’s face while dying. The first promise that he had made to his wife was thus broken. So was her heart.

The mantle of the protector of the family had slipped upon the shoulders of Kirti Prabha. She had to act decisively and quickly, and she did not fail them. She brought them home: to their new home Varanasi. She kept acting normal till the first ekadashi after her husband’s killing. And then, things changed. It was her first ekadashi as a widow, and the last one as her old self. She would observe a nirjal fast for twelve hours and would take only fruits and prasad after that. The sins of her past births had come to visit her in the present one and had made her live after her husband’s killing. She couldn’t even become a sati. The least she could do to save her next life was to follow the books and deposit enough punya for her later births in the present one.

She went for her customary dip at Kedar Ghat before dawn, changed her clothes in the ghat shed and sent her daughter-in-law home. She offered puja and then she sat near Nandi, in front of Kedar Baba‘s sanctum sanctorum through the day. The usual crowd also chants some mantras but she remained totally silent, although not motionless. Lopa came a couple of times to check and then returned home. When she came at around seven in the evening, her mother-in-law wasn’t at her place.

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