Everyone stood cheering. Maithili slowly made her way through the crowd of faces she knew all too well. He sat on a sofa in the middle of the adoring crowd. He was their beloved father, uncle, son, husband. Everyone was proud today to be associated with him. The phone had not stopped ringing since the morning. Everyone from friends to neighbours wanted to speak to him. Women were specially elated for they had found their crusader.e happy news which kept the Kashyap household on moon was the announcement of a prestigious award. Mr. Vishwajeet Kashyap had been conferred the prestigious award of ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ for the work he had done for women empowerment. His wife was specially happy because finally the efforts of her husband were being recognized. She could not stop recalling the day when her husband had encouraged her to pursue her dream of music. She was now a renowned music teacher in the city’s Rajkiya Kanya Mahavidyala. His daughter Mala stood next to him in deep awe. She had become a celebrity in her own small way among her classmates in school.
“What happened Maithili? Why are you sweating so much?” asked an old lady.
Maithili turned around to look at her, her face reflected a strange confusion.
“What is it my child?” asked the lady again.
“Nothing grandma…” Maithili mumbled. “I need to tell him something.”
“Whom? Vishwa? Come I will take you.” She held Maithili by her hand and proceeded to Vishwajeet Kashyap when someone called her from behind.
“Amma! The sweet baskets are ready. Please come and have a look.”
Maithili’s grandmother left her there asking her to wait and disappeared in the group of women who were worrying about the sweets to be distributed in the neighbourhood.
Maithili stood irresolutely there for some time. Her face was aglow with the inner struggle she was going through. In the struggle between shame and will, shame won and Maithili left the ground.
An hour later, Mrs. Kashyap found Maithili alone in a room. She stood with her back towards the door, looking outside the window. Maithili was her brother-in-law’s daughter. Both her parents died in an accident when she was young. Mrs. Kashyap harboured a special corner for Maithili in her heart. Maithili was as sorted a girl as they came. She never made any unreasonable demands and often showed remarkable wisdom in situations where Mrs. Kashyap herself faltered. Mrs. Kashyap was a humble lady who never forgot a favour and she had not forgotten that Maithili was the one who looked after young Mala when she went to take music classes.
She slowly went closer to Maithili and put her hand on Maithili’s shoulder. Maithili had not perceived her coming and was justly startled.
“What is it Maithili? Why are you standing alone here? Why don’t you join others? They just brought your favourite Gopiji ke Samose.”
“No Aunty. I don’t want to eat.”
“What is it child? I noticed that you were troubled in the morning too.” Mrs. Kashyap asked concerned. She had promised herself after the death of her brother and sister-in-law that she would take utmost care of the orphaned child.
Maithili remained silent.
“What is it? You can tell me. I am like your mother.”
To this Maithili raised her large almond eyes. Her eyes puffed and red. It seemed that she had cried for a long time.
Mrs. Kashyap was shocked. What was it that troubled this girl. She firmly believed in the saying that daughters were a manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and to enrage them was a bad omen. All her life she tried her best that Maithili and her own beloved daughter Mala, never had to cry.
Mrs. Kashyap wiped Maithili’s tears and spoke gently “Don’t cry. Why do you cry? I am here for you.”
She then slowly made Maithili sit on the bed and sat beside her. “What is it tell me?”
Maithili looked at her face for a full minute. Her silence was unnerving to Mrs. Kashyap and she decided to call someone when suddenly Maithili spoke.
“Aunty what would you do if someone misbehaved with you?”
“I will slap them.” came Mrs. Kashyap’s prompt reply. “But who misbehaved with you? What did they do?”
“Someone touched me inappropriately.” said Maithili. Only Maithili knew how much courage she had to muster to utter these words, to confess this shameful secret.
Mrs. Kashyap stared at her flabbergasted. Amidst all the festivities at home and the reason for it, she could never have imagined that something so heinous could happen to one of her own girls.
“I feel dirty.” whispered Maithili and began to cry again.
“It’s not your fault my child. Not your fault.” Mrs. Kashyap composed herself. It wasn’t time to be perturbed but to do something. Her many speeches in support of her husband were all fine but now was her real test. No matter what she had to get justice for this girl who lay sobbing in her bosom.
“Who did it? When did it happen?” asked Mrs. Kashyap.
“It has been happening from a long time but yesterday he…he…penetrated me.”
Mrs. Kashyap was taken aback. She couldn’t comprehend what was more shocking the act or Maithili’s awareness of the act.
“What did you do Maithili?”
“Nothing. I could do nothing. HE overpowered me.” After a pause she said “I want to punish him aunty.”
“Yes you must punish him. But who was he?”
Maithili stared in her aunt’s eyes. Mrs. Kashyap thought Maithili was about to tell her when somebody rapped on the door.
“Sunita are you in there?”
“Yes.” Replied Mrs. Kashyap.
“The reporters have come. They want a couple photo. Come quickly!”
“Ok. Ok.” Mrs. Kashyap looked back at Maithili and assured her that she will be right back.
The drawing room had been converted into a temporary conference room. Mr. Kashyap sat facing reporters in all his glory. On both his sides were his wife and daughter, sharing in the limelight and feeling humbled by his great presence. A number of relatives who had come to congratulate and may be get their two seconds of fame on Television stood in group behind the reporters.
Maithili stood at the periphery of this melee for a few seconds. She realised there was no point in waiting or delaying. If she had to do it then she must do it now. She slowly made her way towards where Mr. Kashyap sat. He was busy talking to a rather attractive looking woman reporter who was asking him questions on his camaraderie with his wife. Mala stood by his side looking sheepish waiting for her turn to recite the praise for her father she had learnt by heart and Mrs. Kashyap sat on his right looking resplendent in her banarasi saree and smiling serenely at the flashing cameras.
Maithili was now very close when suddenly Mr. Kashyap pulled himself away from the woman reporter and looked straight at her. His face remained expressionless for a few seconds and then he broke into a smile. Mrs. Kashyap looked at Maithili and hurried to take her away. With her puffy and red eyes she was not a sight to be presented before the reporters. She held Maithili’s hand and tried to pull her with herself but Maithili refused to be whisked away. She stood more determinedly.
By now everyone had caught whiff of what was happening in the center. The reporters too became curious to know the deal with the teary eyed girl. Mr. Kashyap anticipated the tension in the atmosphere, stood up from his seat and with a nervous laughter said “Leave her Sunita. Let her come.” Then turning to the reporters he said “Please meet my niece, daughter of my deceased brother.”
Mrs. Kashyap reluctantly left Maithili’s hand. Maithili slowly made her way through the reporters and stood facing Mr. Kashyap. By now Mr. Kashyap had begun to grow nervous. He tried to compose himself and said to the people in general, “I have been taking care of her since she was eight.”
“Oh Yes you have!” said Maithili and WHAM! She planted a tight slap on Mr. Kashyap’s left cheek. For a few seconds everyone stood stunned. The cameramen forgot to flash and the reporters forgot to ask. The relatives were scandalised and Mr. Kashyap – Mr. Kashyap had a defeated look on his face . Mr. Kashyap fell back on the sofa and with this everyone regained their composure. The reporters began to ask questions and relatives began to speculate.
Maithili turned towards the reporters and said “Indeed this man has taken care of me since I was eight. He has molested me. Don’t treat him like God.” With this she looked straight in Mrs. Kashyap’s eyes and said “He is a sexual offender. HE raped me.”
Despite herself tears began to flow from her eyes and her knees began to tremble but she did not give in this time and with determined steps made her way out of the room.
Mrs. Kashyap stood staring at Maithili’s retreating back and Mr. Kashyap refused to answer any further questions.