“Where did you last see her?” asked the police officer.
“I sent her to bring us some water. Just around the corner, from that tap near the urinals. It would have taken her maximum five minutes and it’s been over six hours we haven’t seen her.” replied Amu’s mother.
“Have you received any phone call for ransom?”
“File the FIR and we will begin our search right away.”
Amu, Devi and Rajan’s second child had gone missing from the railway station where her mother worked morning through night selling eatables, newspapers and the like to the passengers. Her father worked in the night shift for a factory and stayed at home during the day.
They had three children, two daughters and a son. Their eldest daughter Kimi had passed away of tuberculosis because they couldn’t afford her treatment. Amu was missing and the despondent couple with their two-year-old son Raja had just begun their rounds to the police station hopeful to get some good news.
The police looked through the CCTV footage and came to know that Amu never went to get the water around or later according to the time mentioned by her mother. They also activated their informants network to know if there was a new entrant in the trafficking market but their efforts failed there as well.
Amu was 11 years old, thin but not malnourished. With the grace of God her parents managed to make enough to feed their family twice a day without cutting the cost of education. Amu had joined school late when she was about 9 years old at the insistence of an NGO worker who had spent days and weeks trying to convince her father to send her to the nearby government school even when the fee was Rs. 10 per month. Albeit strange, it was understood that he disallowed as most women are not allowed to go outside their homes from where he belongs. Amu was beautiful for her age, she had a fair complexion that she didn’t get from her parents, long hair that she preferred to keep open and a dimple at the right side of her lips.
Rajan had taken many trips to the police station for no success.
Two months later, police came to their house in the middle of the day to take them along for identifying a dead body. Rajan opened the door.
“What? No… No please no. It can’t be her… No…”
“Sir, we would like you to come with us please. Would you like to bring your wife along?”
The body’s face was distorted due to the time it was left in the sun. It did not have any clothes or any item on it for identification.
“Yes, that’s her. That’s my dear baby. That’s her.” said Rajan, breaking down on the ground.
The police officers helped him on his feet and took him to the police station for further formalities.
“Since the body was in a bad condition, we would like to conduct a DNA test, just to be sure.”
“Okay. I’ll do it.”
“I was hoping your wife could also do it.”
“That’s not possible.”
“It’s not. I said I’ll do it. I’m leaving now.” and with this, Rajan stormed out of the station.
“Don’t you think it was strange that he identified a body in that condition in a second? It’s like he wanted us to think that this is the body of his daughter.” said the inspector to his sub.
“Also, Sir, how he dodged the topic of his wife. It seems odd to me.” replied the sub inspector.
The inspector instructed the sub and his team to keep an eye on the father and talk to the neighbours and Rajan’s co-workers.
The police found out that a month ago, Rajan had thrown out his wife out of the house blaming her for being irresponsible with their daughter. The police enquired if Amu could have gone on her own, the environment of the family and found nothing suspicious.
“Where is Devi?”
“I don’t know. I kicked her out. She lost my daughter. My elder daughter died while she was taking care of her. I don’t know what she will do to my son. I’m scared for his life so I threw her out.”
The police looked into Devi’s background and found her slate clean. Police found her living with her brother and conducted the DNA test. As expected, the DNA test came back negative. Eventually Rajan reconciled with Devi and they started living together. However, there was still no update about Amu.
After four months from the incident, the police had also given up hopes of finding her, let alone finding her in a stable state and got engaged and engrossed in the pile of other crimes. The couple’s trips to the station had reduced and eventually ended. They had cried their hearts out and convinced themselves she must have lost her honour, and must be dead for them.
With a hand in her left hand, Ira was screaming at her mother-in-law and husband to leave her alone or she would slit her hand. With horror in their eyes and their voices stuck behind their lips, both the mother and the son stepped out of the kitchen walking backwards. While Ira broke down on the floor crying, her mother-in-law spent the next forty-three minutes trying to persuade her son to file for a divorce while suggesting names of girls he could consider marrying.
“She is a crazy girl! You wanted to do a love marriage, I said nothing. You wanted to marry a girl with no parents no relatives no dowry, I said nothing. But this? What is this nonsense? She threatens to kill herself if you touch her? You’ve been married for the last six months and she hasn’t fulfilled her job as a wife? This is unacceptable. I will not tolerate this in my house. Either she goes or I go.”
“Something is bothering her. I will find out and I will take care of her. Don’t worry mom. I love her and she’s not going anywhere. That’s my final answer.”
Ira was a slim, beautiful girl with beautiful long hair that complimented her dimpled smile and tall height. She was 22 years old and married her college sweetheart immediately after finishing college.
Aman went to the kitchen and since he had decided to pick things up, he started by picking up the broken crockery that was all over the floor and then picked up Ira off the floor and carried her to their bedroom. He lied on the bed looking up at the ceiling, holding her hand over his stomach, while she watched him for his expressions, looking for any hint about what he was thinking.
Finally, he said, “I think we should see a doctor. You were not at all like this in college. Something has happened, something that you won’t tell me that I don’t know why you can’t but I have asked you so many times, you just won’t. You know I’m not here for your body but you don’t even let me love you. It is eating you up, this thing that you’re hiding. I can see that. I just want you to talk about it, to someone at least, if not me. Please. It’s killing you, that’s killing me and this whole thing is killing our marriage. Please, let’s go to the doctor.”
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you? I’m a mad woman and you will leave me there where they will make me even crazier and so you can be done with me without the hassle of divorce. I’ll sign the papers. But I won’t go to the damn hospital.”
Aman sat straight upright listening to this, fuming. He was not a regular smoker anymore, credits to Ira but tonight was one of the rare once in a blue moon occasions where lit one in the balcony as he spoke.
“Are you hearing yourself speak? Divorce? Oh, god Ira what has gotten into you. I don’t care what you think, we are going to Dr Shroff tomorrow, he’s a great psychiatrist, he helped me with my depression when Papa died, or you tell me what’s wrong. Choose.”
The answer to his question was muffled sobs. He sat on her side of the bed like a visitor checking on an in-patient in the hospital. He gave her a resistant kiss on her forehead and left the room to bring her food. With enough assurance that he won’t leave her no matter what she tells, she began her story.
“My name is not Ira. I was 11 years old. My mother had abandoned me. I can clearly remember the day, it was so sunny and hot I was sweating profusely. My mother sold items on the railway platform and my father worked in night shift in the nearby factory. I used to help my mother with my baby brother at the station after school. Sometimes I used to go home to spend time with my father but my mother wouldn’t hear of it. One day, I had a fever and I didn’t go to the school or the station. My whole body was hurting. My father was massaging me for the pain when my mother came home and I heard them fight so much for the first time.
Three days later, when I was better and went to the station again, she gave me Rs. 200 and asked me to sit in one of the trains and just go somewhere. Anywhere. Never to return. My elder sister, she had died a few months before this incident. She just wanted a boy and I and my sister were too much for her. Baba loved us all equally. She didn’t. Before I knew it, I had reached Delhi from Mumbai. I slept on the platform for five days, until one day, a middle-aged man with his wife, I presumed asked me if I had lost my parents. I started crying and they took me to their clinic where they gave me an injection and I slept for a very long time.
They put me in a school, gave me food, clothes, a new identity and for nothing in return. Until I realised what they wanted in return. By the time, I was thirteen, I was out of school, I did all the cleaning, cooking and rest of the errands for them. At almost every night, the man, that doctor, who is supposed to save lives tortured and raped me. It continued for years till I was fifteen and ran away to the nearby police station for help. I pretended that I didn’t remember where I came from because I didn’t want to go back to the woman because of whom I faced so much agony. They helped me by putting me in a home where I continued my education. I don’t know what happened to that couple. They didn’t come looking for me. What if they do? I don’t know what I will do then.
I don’t want you touching me because I don’t want to be a mother. Mothers are horrible. I don’t want to be horrible. No, I don’t want this. You have your answers. Now you will abandon me as well. I’m prepared for this. I will keep nothing against you don’t worry. Just don’t tell this to your mother, that’s all.”
Aman’s hands were shaking by the time Ira stopped talking. He couldn’t look her in the eye. He felt he had failed as her partner, failed to gain her trust that she had kept so much inside of her for so long and he had been clueless about it. The thought of why hadn’t he pushed her to tell him earlier kept stabbing him in the gut. He put an arm around her and hugged her tightly, despite her resistance. Ira could feel he was crying in the dark when he put his head low on her shoulder while hugging her.
“I have friends in the police department. I can find out about what happened to that man. Also about your mother, you deserve closure. We will find you that.”
Aman spent the next few weeks getting in touch with the department and finding out details about her families. He was told by the police that the man in question was Dr Trehan who was accused of raping a patient few weeks after Ira ran away and had been put into a mental asylum after psychometric evaluation. Several other cases and complaints had materialised which were enough to put him away for good.
Within a month, the police had managed to trace Ira’s birth parents who now resided in Pune and summoned them to Delhi. It was winters in Delhi but Ira’s hands were cold from the thought of confrontation more than the chilly winds. She wanted to go to the station alone but Aman refused to leave her alone. Her parents were already waiting without any trace of knowledge that they would meet their once lost daughter.
Eleven years apart, it didn’t take Devi five seconds to recognise Amu, even with all the years of damage in between. She leapt at her with a broad smile and tears to hug and Ira stopped her with a show of hand.
“Inspector Sir, arrest this woman. You may close the missing case of Amu. I’m Ira now, I was born as Amu. My mother, my so-called mother, this woman, she abandoned me. She asked me to leave, just like that. Made me sit on a train to nowhere from Mumbai, and here I am.”
Rajan looked turn wise at Devi and then his daughter, trying to process the series of events. He looked confused, upset and evidently angry as he took out his belt to beat Devi but the police officers intervened.
“I only did that to protect you. It was for your own good.”
“My own good? Mine? Do you even know what happened with me? I was raped every night for years by a stranger man who kept me in his home as his daughter! Every night!”
Devi was laughing hysterically, sitting on the floor, while Aman comforted Ira and everyone took their time to absorb the shocking revelations.
“That’s destiny. If that’s not destiny, I don’t know what is.” said Devi, with no hint of emotion in her voice.
“You know how your elder sister died? She didn’t die of tuberculosis. She was pregnant. We tried aborting her child at home and she had an infection, she died from that. This man, this man that you so lovingly call your father made your sister pregnant. I was trying to save you from him. I knew he won’t leave you. When I will be gone in the day, he will come to you… People say monsters are under the beds, he was inside the house, all the time. I couldn’t protect her inside, I thought she would be safer outside. What else could have I done?”
Ira was then crying profusely, hugging her mother and kissing her repeatedly. All the times her mother came between her and her father, all the accusations she made about her mother loving her little brother more than her daughters seemed to clear and vanish.
“Why didn’t you come to the police?” an obvious question, asked by the officer.
“I was scared. I couldn’t take care of children on my own. Do you have any idea what it is like for a woman to get out of house in our society? Get out and make a complaint against your own husband? What if he came back on bail? He would’ve killed me and my daughters anyway. I saw no other choice.”
Within twenty minutes of beating, Rajan admitted to his deeds and a case was registered against him. Aman followed up and made sure that no bail was granted. He made the arrangements for Ira’s mother and brother to stay with them. Ira and her mother started going to therapy after much insistence from Aman. Three years from the day Ira met her mother again, Aman and Ira were blessed with a baby daughter who they named Amu.
Parents are your protectors. What do you do when they become your attackers?