Ram and Sita were born a couple of years apart. The framed twins that proudly adorned the homes of both kids, was the photograph of a two year old smiling Ram, tenderly holding a bawling newborn Sita on his lap, a memento of their first meet.
They not only shared the same neighbourhood, they went to the same school and shared the same sun sign too - Libra. They spent most of their time together, from licking ice creams purchased at the roadside cart to crunching faces and clicking tongues, a natural reaction to the tintilating sourness that descended their tongues, after licking a tamarind fruit.
Though being a lean and lanky girl, Sita matched Ram, be it in the game of gilli-danda or climbing the lone tamarind tree that stood amidst the vast fields spanning the horizon. They would go swimming in the river, or sit under the gushing water, flowing out of the tubes of the water pump that watered the fields.
Sita's arms and legs bore marks of the healed wounds, testimonies to her adventures. Scars and scrapes here and there, bruised knees and elbows were her trademarked tattoos. Her neatly braided hair as she left home was always a mess when she returned back. The exposed areas of her skin were a tad shade darker due to prolonged exposure to the sun. She was nowhere close to how beautiful girls her age appeared. She was tomboyish and hence went by the nick name 'Ragamuffin.'
She would come home to listen to an earful of her mother's complaints and advice about how girls shouldn’t behave. "You will never find a fair and handsome groom. You'll have to settle for someone as dark as charcoal" her mother would scream to which Sita would turn her deaf ears.
One summer afternoon when Sita was all but 12, she took upon herself the challenge to climb higher than any of the boys. Despite Ram warning her not to, she was determined. She climbed as high as she could. She reached for the next higher branch not knowing it wasn't strong enough to hold her weight. She hung there for a moment dangling until the frail twig unable to bear her weight gave away. Alas! Sita fell clutching a handful of tamarind pods followed by Ram who tried to save her from the fall.
Unlike Jack from the famous and familiar 'Jack and Jill' nursery rhyme, it was Jill here who broke her crown and Jack who came tumbling after. Sita suffered a more grievous head injury as she fell from a height greater than Ram. Ram escaped with minor fractures to his leg and arm. Nevertheless, both recovered.
Call it a boon or a bane. The fall left Sita with a superpower. She could envision a couple of days into the future of people she looked in the eye.
She kept it a secret, yet unsuspiciously used it for the good whenever she could, most times failing but a few times succeeding. You see, you can’t go around telling strangers not to do things they're about to do just because you can see it’s not for their good.
But like all good things, her superpower came with a glitch. She could never see into her own future.
The duo expanded to trio when Rita joined them. Rita was two years senior to Sita and joined Ram in the same school as his batch mate. Her father had recently been transferred as chief doctor to the town's only civic hospital.
Sita’s feelings for Ram as most believed weren’t completely brotherly. Her feelings for Ram gradually metamorphosed into love by the time she neared 16 years of age. She'd decided, when the time was right, she'd confess to Ram about her true feelings for him confident it will be reciprocated.
Everytime Sita spent time with Ram and during their conversations, she would look for signs that could possibly reveal his feelings for her. Whenever Ram teasingly pulled her hair or when he jokingly pinched her cheeks, she would construe that to be signs that he too had feelings for her, that she thought leaned more towards love than brotherly.
She'd already built a home with Ram, where their children played in their backyard, in the spongy green grass, as roses and Jasmines in full blooms, spread their fragrance by the fence along the pond, brimming with fishes in rainbow colours.
She was literally living a happy, dreamy life until Rita shattered it one day when she confessed to Sita about her feelings for Ram. Rita was in love with Ram too. Sita was in a fix. Her mind was muddled. She trained all her superpower towards Rita and Ram.
Ram and Rita aiming to go to medical school, spent most of their time together studying and preparing for various entrance tests, with Rita's father helping and coaching them. Sita, two years junior and aiming at becoming a teacher felt, she had no business studying with them.
Every time Sita trained her eyes at Ram, she saw Rita and their activities together, mostly studying and preparing for the ensuing tests. A similar vision engulfed her mind when she trained her sights at Rita.
Months went by and this saga continued with Sita becoming more withdrawn and avoiding eye contact as much as possible, now sure in the belief that Rita and Ram were well into a full fledged love affair.
Ram came running to Sita's house one day carrying a box full of sweets. He'd ranked high in the entrance test and secured admission to the city medical college a few kilometres away. She also learned Rita had secured admission to the same college as well. She looked into Ram's eyes and her superpower whirred.
She saw Ram purchasing a ring two days later. Two days ahead was all that her superpower limited her to see.
Her mind went berserk. She imagined him proposing to his love. She simply couldn’t take it anymore. She felt doomed.
Withdrawing and distancing herself the past few months had been a comfort for Sita. She'd avoided eye contact as much as possible, maintaining relationships over the phone with Ram and Rita. But now this eye contact had raked up all the buried emotions. It surfaced back to torment her.
She imagined Rita all elated delivering the news of Ram's proposal to her. Her life felt worthless. She simply couldn't get over her love for Ram.
As the day of Ram's proposal or so as Sita thought neared, Sita got highly stressed, restless, agitated and lost her appetite and sleep. She hardly ate or slept. She couldn’t even cry for the pain was very deep, beyond tears, tearing her apart inside. They simply refused to flow. Her imagination of a smiling Ram down on his knee, proposing to a blushing Rita, with that beautiful ring gleaming and shining, having caught the sunlight, became a constant torment inside her head. She hugged her favourite pillow in an attempt to cry, but in vain.
Unable to bear the pain anymore, she stormed out determined. She eyed the tamarind tree. It had grown taller and wider and stood majestic in the open field.
She climbed the tree like a scorned woman, ignoring her scraping palms, elbows, knees; oblivious to the raw, sore and red wounds the scraping left behind; oblivious to the splinters that poked her everywhere as she climbed.
She climbed to the highest branch she could reach. She reached for the one above knowing very well, it may be weak. Unable to bear her weight, the frail twig cracked. She hung there for a moment holding on to it, and then plummeted to the field below holding a twig full of ripe tamarind pods.
Writhing in pain, she opened her eyes. She closed them again as the sun shone bright right into her eyes. She knew she did not have long to wait before her last breaths of life ceased and peace took over.
Alas! Peace had distanced itself out of her reach. As she lay there breathing her laboured last, she realised to her horror, the fall had corrected the glitch in her superpower. She saw into her own future. The ring gleamed and shined as it caught the sunlight, while she blushed coyly at a smiling Ram down on his knee sliding the beautiful ring on her finger.
P.S. Gilli Danda is a popular, rural Indian street game