“Ragini,” said Tanuj. “Feeling better? Do you want me to call someone at your home?” He was relieved that she looked fine now. But what surprised him is that she didn’t seem too perturbed by the incident.
“Ah no, thanks,” she replied, picking up the glass of orange juice from the bedside table. “But perhaps you can drop me home. I don’t know how to go. Also it will be weird to walk around with these bandages.”
Tanuj had already made up his mind to accompany her back to Samarganj, but he also knew that it was too early. The doctor had said that she needed to rest, at least for that day.
“You need to stay in the hospital today. I will take you tomorrow. Besides your saree isn’t wearable anymore. I have asked my friend to get a new one for you. Please wait till you are in a better condition. In the meanwhile we can try to contact your family.”
Ragini gave out a short sarcastic laugh. “I don’t think there’s anyone you can call. The only family I have is my mother but she doesn’t have a phone.”
“Okay. Anyone else? A friend maybe?”
“I don’t want anyone to know I am here. I don’t trust anyone. If they come to know that I am safe right now, they will make new plans to ruin me.”
Tanuj felt that something was seriously wrong in Ragini’s life. Here she was sitting up on the bed in her full senses, and seemed surprisingly strong despite the fact that she was about to die the previous night. It was hard not to believe her.
“Can you tell me what has been happening?” he talked very softly. “I will try to help you in some way. Involve the police maybe. If you are being assaulted you should take some action.”
Ragini glanced at Tanuj for a fleeting moment, with a look that seemed to pity him for pitying her. “If only it were that easy,” she sighed. “I wouldn’t like to bother you with my story. You have saved my life, and that is more than I could ask for.”
Tanuj didn’t want to insist her further on telling him, although he was very curious. He knew that most of the incidents of violence against women took place in the villages due to dowry issues or such other things which did not deserve to exist in the twenty-first century, but did exist nevertheless. But he was not sure if Ragini was married. With the bandage on her head, it was impossible to find out if she was wearing sindoor, and she didn’t seem to have been wearing any jewellery in the first place.
As if she was able to read his mind, Ragini spoke suddenly. “I would be happy if tomorrow you dropped me at my mother’s place instead of my in-laws’. I know a woman’s place is with her husband, but I cannot go back there for a few days. But staying at the village will be risky too, also for my mother…” she went on as if talking to herself, and seemed oblivious of the presence of Tanuj, who was surprised because few minutes ago she was unwilling to disclose anything to him.
“So you’re married,” said Tanuj, interrupting her.
“Yes. I am twenty-three. You cannot expect a village girl to stay unmarried at this age. And my mother had no other option. She was getting old.”
Ragini stared into space, as if trying to measure her words. Tanuj sensed that he should give her time to open up. He had a feeling that she would do so on her own. He was ready to wait.
“I better be going now, Ragini,” said Tanuj, suddenly remembering that he was supposed to avoid creating a scene at home. “My parents are expecting me at home. If you need anything, just tell the nurse. She has my number. I will come to see you in the evening, and then we can plan about tomorrow.”
Tanuj bade an almost reluctant goodbye to Ragini. He wished to sit there longer, and try to unravel by himself the mystery she was keeping from him. It seemed pretty obvious now that he knew that she was married. It seemed like one of those common cases of domestic violence. But something told him that it wasn’t the whole story. At some level in his subconscious, he had the inkling that Ragini was beyond any ordinariness. As he kept thinking about her, he stepped up to the front door of his house, with the door being opened by his mother.
She looked terrified due to some reason, and much to Tanuj’s surprise, she asked no questions about his whereabouts. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or anxious, but since was not questioned, he decided to proceed towards his room. But suddenly he was stopped in his tracks by his father.
“We know where you have been Tanuj.” He was visibly angry, with that characteristic frown on his face which showed up when someone under his authority went ahead and did something he did not approve of. “It’s not enough that we pay you so much allowance. You have to go and spend it on some random village chick at such an expensive hospital? And who will manage if you get involved in some police case? This was none of your business!”
Tanuj was taken aback. “Okay! First of all, that was the nearest hospital there was. And she was bleeding so much, Dad! Any sane person couldn’t have left her there. And she wouldn’t tell me what happened to her, so there is no question of getting me involved. But above all, how did you come to know about this?”
Was it Hitesh? He felt a stone landing somewhere at the bottom of his heart.
(To be continued..)