“Can you keep a secret?”, Rashmi whispered to her husband, Praveen.
The prisoners were not allowed to be in close contact with the visitors, even when they were family. She sat opposite to Praveen, with her fingers clasped tightly and placed on her lap to stop them from fidgeting, as she looked at him.
The two rotund constables stationed at the door tried to look disinterested, but she knew their lecherous thoughts, as they shifted their gaze on her every now and then, probably wondering, why such a beautiful woman like her was stuck with a criminal like him.
They had found father dead on his bed, last month. But that was not what had shocked them. It was the incessant ringing of the bell, and the fact that the Police was at their doorstep, that morning. It had been a whirlwind since then, and Praveen was torn between being devastated on losing his father and being aggravated by the presence of the Police and the accusations that had been made against him.
Rashmi had remained in the background the whole time, as she had been taught to do since her marriage. Meek and responding in low stutters. She had clutched her twelve year old daughter Meera tight to her, when the Police constable barraged question upon question to her.
“But why the hell will I murder my own father??!!”, had been Praveen’s outraged cry, when the Police had handcuffed him and taken him in custody.
The court proceedings had been brutally quick and straightforward.
“Mr Praveen, do you accept that your father was a diabetic patient and needed to be extremely careful with his sugar intake and his insulin dosage?”, the lawyer had interrogated.
“Of course I know that! How dare you even ask such a question to me, when I have been taking care of him since I was old enough to! I always checked his sugar, every night and only administered insulin when it was required. What is wrong with you people??”, Praveen had been extremely vocal on the first day of the hearing.
“Please answer in Yes or No, Mr. Praveen”.
The coroner’s report had come in, and had shown, to Praveen’s shock, that there had been an overdose of insulin administered on the night before they found his body. He just couldn’t understand how that was possible. He had thought father had died of natural circumstances, because of his age or his illness catching up with him.
“Mrs. Rashmi Malhotra. How many years have you been married to Mr. Praveen?”
“Speak Up Mrs Malhotra!”
“Ten years, Sir.”
“In your years of living with Mr. Malhotra, has there ever been any incident of violence or discontent between father and son? Please think carefully and answer truthfully”.
Rashmi thought about the years of violence she had suffered at the hands of father and son. A slap here, a push there. And lots of reprimands. But she knew this wasn’t what the lawyer was asking about. She knew she couldn’t talk about the other violence. And she knew she couldn’t lie either.
“No. My husband loved his father and looked up to him as his idol. He would never hurt him”, she had replied with conviction. She had seen the look of approval on Praveen’s face at that moment and knew she had done the right thing by being honest.
However, despite Praveen’s denial of his alleged crime of murdering his father, and despite Rashmi’s witness statement, the verdict had been against Praveen. The evidence had been too strong to be ignored. No one else in the house administered the insulin dosage, since Rashmi didn’t know how to read or write and only Praveen undertook his father’s treatment. Even their daughter Meera was not allowed to help, since Praveen had insisted that it was enough already that they had to send Meera to school. The other time, Meera was to help her mother with house chores and go attend to her grandfather’s needs when he would call on either mother or daughter. Only the medicine would be administered by Praveen.
Now, Rashmi was sitting across Praveen, looking at him, in that dimly lit and cramped up visiting area. He would be transferred to the main facility tomorrow and the process of visiting him would be harder then. He had been sentenced to a lifetime in prison.
“I keep thinking about that day when the Police landed at our doorstep. Everything else makes sense. Maybe I did kill father accidentally. Maybe I had a bit more to drink that night and administered a double dose of insulin. But why would they charge me for murder? And more importantly, how did the Police know that father had been dead?”, Praveen looked at Rashmi with his tired eyes.
For once, Rashmi thought, he didn’t look cruel. For once, he looked as broken as she felt.
She thought he hadn’t heard her the first time when she had asked him the question. So she tried again.
“Can you keep a secret, Praveen?”
“What are you blabbering about Rashmi? I don’t have time for your nonsense. Figure out a way to appeal for my release or ask your good for nothing family to get me bailed out”, he barked at her. And he was back to his usual self.
“I know who called the Police that day”, Rashmi interrupted him.
“But before that, let me ask you something. Did you know, about Meera, and…..father?”, she almost choked with revulsion, as she struggled to finish her question.
“Stop talking nonsense Rashmi. This is neither the time nor the place!”
“Just answer and I will give you your answer about who had called the Police that day.”
“Yeah fine, yes Meera had come to me the week before. But it was nothing really. You women have a habit of exaggerating things and creating drama out of nothing. I had asked father and all he had done was asked her to sit on his lap. What’s so wrong about a grandfather asking for a little love from his grand daughter?”
“The same way it was alright for a father in law to ask for a little affection from his newly wed daughter in law?”
Praveen looked up at Rashmi’s face then, with shock and a sense of foreboding. She had never answered back to him like this. She had always been the timid little mouse, his father and his plaything.
“It was me, Praveen. And I had told the truth at court that day, when I had said you would never harm your father. Because it wasn’t you Praveen. It was Meera who had given the dose. On my suggestion, the next day when you were passed out drunk and father had summoned Meera again. I’ve come to say goodbye. I hope you rot in hell”, Rashmi almost spat at him as she whispered her confession to Praveen’s shocked face as she stood up to leave.
“Oh, and one last thing. Here are the divorce papers. I’ve signed them already. Oh! don't look so shocked. I’m not the illiterate girl you married, anymore. I made my own way, when you were busy. I had realised long time back, that a woman needs to fight for herself, to survive in this country. But you and your father went too far when you touched my daughter. I hope every time you look at a young girl again, you remember an angry mother’s eyes. And Goddess Durga’s wrath along with it.”
She pulled her dupatta tightly around her head, as she walked out of the cell, with tears in her eyes. Those were tears of joy for her. But the constables thought they were tears of parting from her husband, and gave her a wide berth. Such a perfect little wife, they thought.
Rashmi walked out into the sunlight, towards the taxi waiting for her. She got in and looked at her daughter and smiled.