Darker than the moonless night, she strikes fear in
the heart of Evil. No demon can escape her, but she
protects those who cherish her. The Dark Force of
Nature, she is responsible for maintaining
balance in the Universe.
I wiped my sister’s fevered forehead with a wet cloth. “Don’t worry. Appa will be home soon with medicine. You will be all right.”
“Leave me alone. Let me die.”
“Never. You are the smartest one in the family. You will study and become a nurse. Then you will escape all this.”
“Let me die, Akka. Don’t hold me back. I am too sick. We do not have the money for medicines.”
“Don’t worry. Appa will get you medicines. I will not allow you to die, the way we let Amma.”
My baby sister muttered something, and drifted back into sleep. I couldn’t let her die. This was the same sickness that took away my mother. First the loose motions, then the vomiting. Then the fever, and more vomiting even when there was nothing to throw up. The nurse who had come to the school told us we could avoid falling sick if we boiled the water before drinking. But who has that much firewood?
But where was Appa? He should have come home long back. He said he would ask the money lender for money and get medicines. Why hadn’t he come yet?
At least my sister had managed to sleep. I fanned her and tried to ignore my hunger. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday. But I had to wait for Appa to eat first. He went out to work. He needed the little food there was.
Appa came home late smelling of arrack.
“Did you get medicines?”
“That b@#%$$* refused to loan me any more money. Said I should pay back what I have already borrowed. I told him I will pay him back as soon as my sons send money home, but he refused to listen.”
He handed me the rest of the daily wages. “Tomorrow, I will go to the shopkeeper. He might give me money. I don’t know why I didn’t go to him first. The money lender is totally unreliable. That b@#%$$*. I shouldn’t have gone to him.”
I looked away. I knew the terms on which the shopkeeper lent money. But we didn’t have a choice. For the sake of my little sister, I would have to agree to them.
The next day, we took my sister to the hospital. They put her on saline. Four packets of saline. She would certainly get well. My sister had to get well. She was the smart one in the family. She would study and become a nurse. We will help her, my brothers and I. None of us was good at studies but she is. She will become someone. I will make sure she does.
Two days later, my sister was better and we could take her home. She was still weak, but she could sit on the bed, and drink the rice gruel I gave her. I heard someone calling my father’s name from outside the hut. I knew who it was. It was the shopkeeper. He had come to collect his fee for giving us money.
“I am giving my sister her medicine. Please wait. I will come outside”, I shouted out. I knew the payment he wanted. It was the same payment I made when our roof blew away, and when my mother fell sick. It will be the same payment I will continue to make till my sister is able to finish school. As long as he continues to be satisfied by the payment, we will survive.
I wiped my hand on my saree, and stepped out. He could sleep with a Dalit girl, but he would never enter our house.
“Akka, we don’t want to go to school”, my younger brother and sister told me.
“But you must go to school.” I insisted.
“But why? We can both start working and earn money. Then you will also have less tension.”
“You have to go to school. Because unless you study well, you will not be able to make a good life.”
“It’s no use”, they complained. “Anyway we don’t learn anything. Even after we finish sweeping the school, Master never lets us sit inside the classroom. We don’t even know what he is teaching.”
“I will come and speak to your Master”, I promised. “Perhaps he will listen to me.”
I know the school teacher well. I have something he wants, maybe I could make him listen.
When the sowing season came, my brother dropped out of school. I started dropping my sister off and picking her up from school. She was young and fair. I couldn’t take any chances with her.
One day, the shopkeeper saw us together. “Hey Kaali. Where did you get this beautiful cow from?”, he asked staring lustfully at my sister.
I pushed my sister behind my back. “Don’t even look at her. She is not for you.”
“Really. We will see about that.” He licked his lips suggestively.
That night I made my way to the shopkeeper’s house. After that, I went whenever he called. But I knew he was not satisfied. He made it clear that it was my sister who he wanted. I would not let her out of my sight even for a moment.
The rains failed. There was no harvest work for any of us. My father too left us and went to the city to look for work. I was left alone to look after my younger brother and sister. We survived somehow. Men were willing to give me little money for food. I made sure they didn’t miss a single day of school.
The shopkeeper’s wife delivered a baby. She was very weak, and I was asked to help. I didn’t want to leave my brother and sister alone at home, but I had no choice. They gave me four rupees every day, and sometimes when there was food left over, they let me take it home.
One day, when I returned home, I found my sister on the bed staring into space.
“What is wrong? Why are you not studying?”, I asked lighting the lamp. “At least light the lamp. Why are you sitting in the dark.”
She refused to answer. Just started into space. “What happened?”, I asked shaking her shoulder. She refused to answer. She lay down, closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep.
Finally, sleep claimed me.
“Akka, wake up. Sister is missing.”
I sat up with a start.
My sister was not where she should be on the floor.
“She must have run away. We have to look for her. You go near the forest, I will check in the village.”
We ran in different directions.
“Akka!!!!!” My brother’s voice reverberated from the direction of the thicket. I ran through the fields. Pushed through the shrubs, not caring how the thorns cut into my bare hands. I reached the clearing. There, hanging from the branch of the giant bakula tree was my sister. Limp. Motionless. The leaves fluttered in the gentle breeze. But she was still.
I sunk to the ground. Raked with sorrow. My sister gone. Gone forever. Dead. Dead like she never existed.
Was it the school teacher? Was it the shopkeeper? I do not know. But I know they will not get away with it. I will go to the city. I will study and join the police. I will hunt them down. However long it takes, I will hunt them down. My sister’s death will be avenged.
I am Kalaratri, the Ruler of the Night. The seventh manifestation of Nav Durga. I am every woman fighting for her right to live.