Friday, March 31, 2017


It was a cold month of January and it was a full moon day, considered to be an auspicious by the Hindus
for propitiating gods. On this day, Ramchandra Jagtap and his wife Rajanibai had come to the famous temple of goddess Mandher Devi in the Satara district of Maharastra.
Ramchandra Jagtap was a farmer from Achera village of Igatpuri sub division of Nashik district where he owned a piece of land and a small orchard of oranges. Besides, he grew maize, millet and onion and other seasonal vegetables, which was good enough for leading an austere village life. Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai were quite religious. It was after eleven years of their marriage that they were blessed with a daughter. It could have been because of prolonged treatment in a fertility clinic but the couple sincerely believed that it was a divine benediction. Ramchandra was happy to have a daughter and named her Aparna, a synonym of the goddess. The couple decided to visit the abode of the goddess with their newly born daughter to pay their obeisance to the goddess to express their gratitude.

There was a big crowd of devotees queuing on the ascending hill track going to the temple. The devotees had started arriving since wee hours. They were carrying flowers, sweets and gifts to be offered to the goddess. Some women were holding infants close to their bosoms and some children were tagging along their parents. And a few devotees were dragging sacrificial goats to propitiate the goddess. The temple hill had come to life with loud incantation of goddess Mandher Devi by men, women and children and deafening sound by scores of drum beaters. It was a super jamboree of humanity; everyone was zealous and enthused. 

Then, misfortune descended on the temple hill as a gas cylinder exploded in a make-shift shop, engulfing the cluster of temporary shops. No one could ever imagine that the auspicious day would turn out to be the most horrible day in the annals of the temple. With strong wind blowing the shops were gutted in no time. The devotees moving around the shops cried for help but in vain. Thirty of them were charred beyond recognition. Panic was writ large on pilgrims’ faces and the worst followed. The mile long queue along the hill track broke down as the devotees scampered for safety. It was total mayhem resulting in a stampede. The strong trampled the old and the weak; women and children were the worst affected. Over two hundred lives were lost in the frightful chaos. Ramchandra and his wife Rajanibai were amongst the dead. Five months old Aparna fell apart from her mother’s lap landing on a shrub of wild berries. She was badly bruised but survived miraculously and found in an unconscious state by the rescue team after ten hours.

Ramchandra Jagtap was the only son of his parents. His elder sister was widowed and lived as a recluse in a distant village. Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai thus departed from this world without discharging their obligation towards the goddess and leaving their five month old daughter in no one’s care. 

Sadashiv Rao was a close friend of Ramchandra Jagtap. They came from same village. Sadashiv Rao was a small time politician and the president of the village panchayat. Contracts falling under government’s social security programmes were awarded to him or his nominees with the blessings of the political bosses. The district authorities were aware of his political clout and therefore refrained from crossing his path. 
Sadashiv Rao was a widower. He volunteered to take the responsibility of the child under his care.
“I am a close friend of the deceased and will take care of the child. He even went a step further. “I will deposit the sale proceeds of Ramchandra Jagtap’s farm produce after every crop in a bank account in the name of Aparna and hand over the same when she becomes a major.” 
“The child needs a woman’s love and care. We therefore cannot agree to place her under your care.” The court decreed, accepting only the second half of his plea and ordered to put Aparna in the care of the Children Home at Igatpuri, near Nashik.

Rajnikant and Kavita, both engineering graduates were colleagues working for Cairns India at Nashik. They were married for nine years but had no issue. The couple finally decided to adopt a child and in that, Kavita wanted it to be a girl child. They went to the Children Home at Igatpuri and saw Aparna there. The couple was moved, in fact, fascinated by little Aparna in their first visit and filed an application for her adoption. 
Sadashiv Rao, a trustee of the Children Home was happy that the couple had selected Aparna preferring her over other male children. He facilitated and accelerated the adoption process. When the entire proceeding was completed, Aparna was less than two years old. 
Rajnikant and Kavita were proud of Aparna; they dotted on her. Aparna was indeed a bright and beautiful child. Her teachers loved her and so did the neighbours. The three comprised a happy family. 

As chance would have it, Rajnikant and Kavita got an international assignment to work in Bosnia under the World Food Programme. They were happy to land an international job though they worried that Aparna would miss her friends. But for better prospects and lure of money they accepted the assignment and when they left Nashik, Aparna was a bubbly girl of five years. When Sadashiv Rao came to know of it, he was awfully pleased to see the back of the family for he always cherished the plan of arrogating the property of his late friend. Aparna’s going abroad added wings to his dreams. 
One day Sadashiv Rao went to the land revenue office and ascertained the land details of late Ramchandra Jagtap. He started cultivating the officers of the revenue department with occasional gifts and favours. Finally, with his political clout and huge bribe, he succeeded in getting the land and the orchard of late Ramchandra Jagtap mutated in his name by forging the documents. Thus, Sadashiv Rao became the owner of the land and orchard that once belonged to Ramchandra Jagtap. Aparna, the rightful successor was oblivious of the deceit and treachery perpetrated by the friend of her father. 
Rajnikant and Kavita were worried over Aparna’s education, which was not possible in Bosnia. There were no good schools in the country seized of civil strife. They therefore looked for a change of job. Luckily, a year later, Rajnikant got a job offer at Toronto. The family moved to Canada and after couple of years decided to settle down there.


Years rolled. Aparna was now seventeen; charming and beautiful, kind and affable. Her parents loved her and she was popular among her friends. Rajnikant and Kavita thought she was matured enough to know about her past. 
“You are a grown up girl now. We thought it was time that we told you of your past,” Rajnikant told her one evening. Aparna was curiously vexed as they unfolded the story.
“We picked you from the Children Home at Igatpuri. As per their records, you are the daughter of Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai. They both died in a stampede in Mandher Devi temple. You were merely five months old then.” 
Aparna was distraught but accepted her past gracefully. But now she was keen to see her place of birth, the village of her parents. After completing her school, Aparna opted for sociology at the under graduate level. One evening, she told her foster parents that she was joining a group of students who were going to India for three months under an ‘Exchange Programme’ sponsored by Indo-Canadian Society for Cultural Relations.
“The students will stay with Indian families. I have opted to work in Nashik,” she told them. They were aware of her keenness to trace her roots. 

Shivaji Rao, a young business man from Nashik agreed to host Aparna. He was rich and ostentatious; owned a chain of tourist lodges and large tracts of farm land in the nearby villages. He was a suave, handsome and good conversationalist; popular among ladies though he had separated from his wife on the ground of incompatibility. 
He was the son of Sadashiv Rao.
Shivaji Rao loved wine, women and wealth. Aparna appealed to him. In fact, whenever he saw her in shorts and tea shirts, revealing her curvaceous figure, he was overly excited. He was desperate to win her favor. He treated her lavishly; taking her to exclusive restaurants and giving her expensive gifts. 
Aparna too was impressed by Shivaji Rao and liked his company. She often spent her evenings with him, eliciting information about people and events of the region. She moved around during day time meeting people and talking to them. She also visited the Mandher Devi temple. 
One day she asked Shivaji Rao whether she had heard of Ramchandra Jagtap. 
Shivaji Rao was surprised. “How do you know him?” 
“I heard of him from my father.” 
“Well! Ramchandra Jagtap and my father were good friends. Both came from Achera village. Unfortunately, Ramchandra died in a stampede at Mandher Devi temple. He had mortgaged his property to repay the loan he had taken from my father.”

Aparna was saddened to hear the story but deep in her heart, she was skeptical; not accepting its veracity. She decided to visit Achera to find out the truth. She didn’t reveal her plan to Shivaji Rao.

In Achera, Aparna met many villagers; elders and young ones. She had carried freebies for them. The women folk were moved to tears when they learnt that she was the daughter of late Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai. 
“They were a decent couple and quite well off. You father was a hardworking and a progressive farmer and a very helpful person. After the death of your father, Sadashiv Rao forged documents and bribed the revenue officers to usurp your property. Because of his political clout, we are scared of him and his goons,” they told her. 
Aparna was grieved when she knew the truth. She was agonized that Sadashiv Rao, a friend of her late father had deceived him. She returned to Nashik resolute to avenge her parents. I have no interest in the land and property but I must avenge my dead parents. She vowed. 

Shivaji Rao was happy and excited to see Aparna back. I must win her over, whatever that takes. He was determined. Next evening he invited her to his place; Aparna obliged. Shivaji Rao offered her whiskey, an exclusive brand. Aparna accepted that too. The intoxicant had its effect on Shivaji Rao; Aparna’s revealing contours heightened his urge. He held her hand and wheedled her to stay with him. 
“I will give you a bungalow to stay and put a large sum of money in your bank account. I promise you all worldly comforts,” he implored. Aparna merely smiled and made another drink for him. Soon Shivaji Rao swooned in to oblivion. Aparna returned to her room.
Next evening, it was a retake of the previous day and it became a daily fixture. Shivaji Rao would fiddle with her body but fall short of his intended objective under the influence of alcohol. But there was an apparent development; Shivaji Rao wanted more and more of her company and more and more of whiskey from her. 
Aparna knew it was only a matter of time that Shivaji Rao became a captive of his weakness. She extended her stay in Nashik by couple of months.
Shivaji Rao was desperate for her company. “Aparna, I can’t live without you; I love you and want to marry you,” Shivaji Rao repeatedly pleaded before her. He was mostly in an inebriated condition, unable even to stand on his feet. 

This was the time when Sadashiv Rao, the wily father had delegated his responsibilities to his only son, Shivaji Rao and proceeded on a long pilgrimage. He was happy that he had completed the circumambulation of Pundharpur, the holy place successfully. All through his pilgrimage, he prayed for the wellbeing of his son. 
On his return, Sadashiv Rao was in for a shock. His servants told him that Shivaji Rao had been spending most of his evenings in the company of a Canadian girl of Indian origin. He saw Shivaji Rao in a pathetic condition and was deeply distressed to know that his son had become an alcoholic. 
Shivaji Rao a feeble man now, wept before his father. “Please persuade her not to leave me... I am guilty but the fact is, I cannot live without her... please give whatever she wants... please...” Shivaji Rao couldn’t continue further. Sadashiv Rao couldn’t hold his tears as he embraced his son. 
Next morning Sadashiv Rao knocked at Aparna’s room. Aparna opened the door for him. 
“So, you are the bitch who has ruined the life of my son. You seduced him with your body charm and made him an alcoholic. I will kill you for that,” he was furious. 
“Will that bring back your son?” Aparna was defiant. 
“Why did you do that? You have nearly killed him. What harm has he done you?” 
“Sadashiv Rao! I don’t want your son to die. Instead, I want you to suffer, to repent for your sins. That will be fair retribution.” 
“What sins? What retribution? What are you talking?” Sadashiv Rao was enraged.

“Do you remember Ramchandra Jagtap?” 
Sadashiv Rao was stupefied by the question. He paused and then said, “Yes. He was from my village. We were good friends. So what?
          “I am his daughter. You claim to be his friend and yet you deceived him. You forged documents and usurped his entire property.” 
Sadashiv Rao was shocked. He found himself defenceless. Tears rolled down his eyes. He was apologetic, “Please take back all the property but don’t leave my son.” 
“Sadashiv Rao you cannot reverse the clock. You cheated a dead friend. You did that for your son. I want to ensure that he is too debilitated to reap the fruits of your deceit.”
Sadashiv Rao fell on his knees. “Please punish me but don’t forsake my son... please. He will not survive without you.” 
Sadashiv Rao was a broken man altogether. 
“I didn’t have any knowledge of my father’s property and in any case, I don’t want it. I only wanted to avenge my dead parents.” 
And after a pause she added, “I am returning to my parents leaving the property and your beleaguered son with you.” 
Then looking at him disdainfully, she walked out of the house; hailed a taxi and left for the airport.

No comments: