By: Tahira Z.
“It’s time to leave, Meera. Are you ready?” Meera’s mother, Mrs. Joseph knocked on her door.
Meera opened the door, wiping the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
Her mind continued to replay the incident that happened 3 days ago…
“Josephine!” Meera dashed out of her house to find her best friend, Josephine, lying on a stretcher – lifeless.
“No…No… She didn’t leave me. Jo is still alive.”
The sight unfolding before her was simply too overwhelming.
She felt like her innards were being replaced by black hole. Nausea crept from her abdomen to her head. She crumpled to the floor like a puppet suddenly released of its strings.
“We have arrived, Meera.” Meera’s father, Mr. Joseph said, bringing her out of her deep thoughts.
Josephine and Meera had just finished the final round of examinations at their local university.
‘Josephine had countless dreams. Josephine would have never committed suicide. I knew her.’ Meera thought.
“Come on, Meera. They are waiting.” Mrs. Joseph tugged onto her daughter’s arm. Meera refused to budge, repeating the same thing, “I am not coming. That is not Jo. She didn’t leave me. She….”
“I will bring her, honey. You head first. Mrs. Bhagat needs you.” Mr. Joseph sent his wife ahead of them.
“It’s not Josephine, Papa. Don’t bring me in there.” She blubbered, sobbing into her father’s chest, taking short pauses for recovering breaths. The pain was coming in waves, hurling her into outstretched arms of grief.
“Meera, it was unexpected of Josephine to leave us. But if you miss this, you’ll regret it later. Don’t you think she deserves a proper goodbye from you? Come on, child. They are waiting for us.” Mr. Joseph convinced her, taking her into the cemetery.
With downcast eyes, everyone was wondering about the misfortune that befell on the Bhagat family. Looking frail and feeble, Josephine’s mother, Mrs. Bhagat stood there, weeping. Mr. Bhagat was standing with his arm around his wife, a grief-stricken look plastered on his face.
Josephine was their only child. She was their only bundle of happiness. Despite being one of the wealthy families in the state, now, they felt poor. They were alone. Mrs. Bhagat was clinging onto her husband as their minds were a surging complexity. They had always fulfilled their daughter’s wishes before she even voiced them out. Puzzled to why she would take her own life, they stood, witnessing the final rites being done for their daughter. Their family would never be complete again. They would have never imagined that they would be conducting their own daughter’s funeral, few weeks ago…
Josephine was a sister to Meera. They had been best friends for almost 20 years now. They were supposed to grow old and laugh back on all their memories. They had shared their lives through thick and thin. Meera was clueless to how she was going to survive alone…
Meera lifted her gaze to see her friend lying in the casket, cold.
“This is not Josephine. At least, this is not the best friend I had. The confident and straightforward girl I had known.” Meera mumbled to herself, wiping the tears that had begun to trickle.
Everyone, at the funeral, was wondering to what had pressurized Josephine to the extent of taking her own life. It was buzzing in all their minds.
After some time, Meera realised her brother, Ram, was missing.
“Papa, where’s Ram?” She asked her father.
“Ram had to go to Bangalore urgently. He said one of his friends had met with an accident. He apologised for not being able to be here for you,”
Mr. Joseph enveloped Meera in a bear hug, patting her head as her tear-stained cheeks were washed again.
Watching the casket lowered into the grave through glassy eyes, the reality of not being able to see her face again, see the warmth in their eyes or be surrounded by the love pierced Meera like a shard of glass. Her soul was unwilling to acknowledge the finality of death.
It was time to say their final goodbye to Josephine.
Meera still couldn’t digest what had happened. The past three days felt so surreal. Deep down, she was still hoping that she would wake up from the terrible nightmare to see Josephine at her doorstep.
Entering her bedroom, Meera found a folded note on the floor. It read:
I am sorry that I can’t be beside you right now. I need my own space. I have told our parents that Krishna has met with a motorbike accident. He is fine. I just needed to get away. I know you will understand my situation. Will be back with Krishna in a week or so. I will call you once I reach Bangalore if it isn’t too late. Please take care of yourself.
Sighing, she left the note on her table under a paperweight.
Moments later, Mrs. Joseph came in with a glass of milk. She engulfed Meera in a tight hug as if hoping it will put the broken pieces of her heart back together.
“It has been an extremely long day for you. Please rest well.” Mrs. Joseph closed the door.
She had just attended a funeral of her loved one — someone who deserved to live much longer. How would she be able to sleep with haunting memories?
The pain and grief was consuming her slowly.
“Mrs. Bhagat?” Meera called out.
“Meera? Come in, dear,”
“I think I left my bag in Josephine’s room, the other night.”
Slowly opening the door, the scent of Josephine washed over her. It felt like they were just chatting here yesterday and now, Josephine was in the grave.
As Meera bent down to pick up her handbag, she spotted a diary beside it.
\How strange! She had never known that Josephine wrote in a diary.
Shoving it inside her bag, she quickened her steps back home, burning to read its contents.
(21st May 2015)
It has been almost a year. A huge weight on my shoulders to keep it a secret from her. I hope she doesn’t misunderstand me. The circumstances have kept me silent. I would have never thought that I will fall so hard for someone. And to have him love me back is the best feeling ever. Meera and I have a final set of semester examinations.
Just thinking of the end of it all gives me butterflies in my stomach. At the same time, I can also hear the cries of my pain. Is it possible to fear the future and live happily in the present? As Meera always says, “Live in the moment. You will never get it back.” I began to live and have unexpectedly fallen in love. I hope Meera will accept us.
‘She loved someone. So, who is this guy she fell in love with? And why couldn’t she tell me?’
Her mind was bubbling with questions.
Out of the blue, Meera’s phone beeped, making her jump out of her skin. It was a message from Ram, informing her that he had reached.
As she was about to continue reading, her father came in.
“Meera, I have brought lunch.”
“Papa, I haven’t gone lame. You could have called out for me.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart.”
Silence set in.
“Meera, your mother and I were just talking about what has happened. We personally feel that if you stay here, in a place where both of you have had a lot of memories, might be depressing. We want you to take a trip to Bangalore and stay in our flat for some time.
What do you think about it?”
Mr. Joseph looked at Meera earnestly, looking for a favourable sign on her face.
She replayed his words in her head again. If he had asked Meera this yesterday, she would have said a defiant No, in a blink of an eye. But now, she needed a quiet place to read everything Josephine had written. She needed a getaway.
A small smile broke out on her face as she looked up at her father.
“Time will heal our wounds, my child. We must learn to live with their memories and continue on with our lives. Tell me if you need anything, alright?”
As he was about to close the door, Meera called out, “Papa, I will leave for Bangalore, tomorrow itself.”
He raised his eyebrows, slowly nodding at her words.
Meera stared at the diary in her hands.
It had many stories to tell.
And she had no time to waste.
Stuffing her bag with all the necessities, she was almost ready. She gazed at the photo montage on her wall — captured moments. Although it did not have all their moments, it held the best ones that they had cherished.
She took down their most recent photograph, at their farewell celebration, and stuck it onto the back of Josephine’s diary.
Just then, Mrs. Joseph came in, frowning at the sight of the clothes messily sprawled across on the floor.
“What a mess, Meera,” she said. “so… all set?”
“I am fine, mum.”
“Honestly, I thought it would be a struggle to even make you agree,” She admitted.
“I just felt some time alone would help clear my mind.” Meera replied, averting her gaze.
“I know. You’ve got an early bus to catch tomorrow. Anyways, don’t overthink too much, sweetheart. All will be fine. Good night.”
“Meera, Ram will pick you up from the bus-stop. Have a safe journey. Please take care of yourself.” Mr. Joseph said as Meera tucked her baggage under her seat.
Soon, the engine revved and she took out the diary.
I know she will. She will be shocked but eventually, she will accept. He is not a stranger to her. I knew him for so long. He has made me love myself and my life by becoming a part of it… I can’t wait for the university to be over.
23rd May 2015)
Today, we went on a long drive to the beach — simple but a sweet outing. I hated that we couldn’t freely go to places we liked. We have no choice now as even, Meera does not know about us. Slowly, we can break the news to my parents. It gives me shudders to even think about my father’s reaction. He seems to be still obsessed with the caste system. Well how am I going to explain that love does not come based on societal status…
Flipping through the pages, she had written a few recounts when she had gone out with him. Her joy is overflowing through her words she has penned down – ironic to what she did to herself.
‘How did you have the heart to leave all those who loved you, Jo?’ She thought as a steady stream of salty tears flowed down her pale cheek.
She continued reading.
(21 June 2015)
Yesterday seems so perfect. Now, it feels like it is vanishing right before my eyes. My father had seen us at the restaurant. He said, “You can explain your situation at home,” and left. I told him so many times. I refused to go home. But, he reassured me and convinced me to go home. Stepping into the house, I saw my father, seated on the couch with a steaming cup of coffee in his hands.
When my mum called me to have lunch, my father spoke up, “Oh, she has had a delicious lunch, dear. I think it’s time we talk to our daughter about what she plans to do in future. Sit down, Josephine.”
Sarcasm was dripping from his tongue. My phone slipped out from my clammy clasp, crashing to the floor. Swiftly picking it up, he handed it over to me.
“I would rather hear the truth from your mouth than going through your phone, Josephine. So, start talking. I don’t have all day.”
I started telling him about my relationship. I could feel his gaze drilling into me. He stood up, folding his arms across his chest.
“Does anyone know about your relationship? Specifically, does Meera know?” He asked.
“We haven’t told anyone.”
“Hmm… I know them very well enough to know that they are from a different caste. What will our relatives speak of this?” He bellowed. “For Christ’s sake, have you gone insane?”
I knew that he was going to raise this argument. All he cares about is his honour. He gives more importance to what his relatives will think of him than my happiness. He will never do anything to tarnish his reputation.
“Father, I love him.” I whimpered, hoping he will at least give it a second thought about it.
“Who asked you to fall in love? I don’t remember your mother or myself telling you to do so! I am not going to be irrational and stop you from finishing your exams. It’s better for you and him if you end it earlier. ” He yelled at my face, heading towards the door.
I begged on my knees and all he said was, “I don’t care. My words are final. Go and concentrate on studying for the examinations.”
As Meera read more of Jo’s diary, her brain became a spinning top, always finding more questions than answers. The weird part was that whatever she reads seems familiar, not a memory per se, but echoes a call to her intuition.
Swerving to the right, the bus entered the bus depot. Meera put the diary inside her bag and alighted from the bus.
“Meera!” Ram waved from afar.
Meera wrapped her arms around her brother. She had missed him. After all, he was now the only person whom she could confide in.
As he bent down to pick up her baggage, Meera removed the cap from his head to try it on herself.
“Oh my! Ram, why would you shave your head?” She gasped.
He brusquely grabbed it from her, putting it back on. She stood rooted, mouth agape.
“He is just being trendy, Meera. ” His friend, Krishna defended him.
“Let’s just go home and talk, can?” Ram asked softly.
After a 30-minute drive, they arrived at their apartment.
“Ram, are you okay?” Meera looked at her brother, with utmost concern.
“I wasn’t aware that I was shaving my head. I obviously needed to be alone. I can’t even function properly with all that has happened.” Ram muttered.
“Yeah… But, it will get better with time, Ram. We can move on…. ” Meera comforted her brother.
“I am so lost, Meera. We will talk later. Your room is next door. Freshen up and come for dinner. We will be waiting for you.”
As he was about to leave the room, Meera, feeling confused, again asked, “Ram, why did you shave your head?”
“Don’t kid around, Meera. I just told you why.”
Meera felt as though she had been in a daze — temporarily asleep — unable to recall what she just heard or seen a few minutes ago.
“Right…” She said, reminding herself to be more aware.
After dinner, Meera came back to her room to continue reading the diary. As she took it out of her bag, Krishna came into the room to talk about the plans for the next day.
“Meera, I have to go… You write in a diary?”
“Ermm… it’s not mine. It belongs to Josephine.”
A moment of silence elapsed.
“Krishna, did you know she loved someone? Do you have any clue who it is? Could it be one of our friends or…” Meera rambled on as Krishna abruptly cut her off.
“I thought you knew about this.” Krishna began.
“It’s none other than your brother, Ram.” Krishna bluntly broke the news to her.
She couldn’t bear what she just heard.
‘Ram? All the while, it has been Ram? Josephine and my brother loved each other? I can’t even imagine what my brother was going through. I had no idea why Krishna thought I knew about this. Both had not even given me a faint clue as I thought of all the times when the 3 of us went out.’ She was in utter disbelief.
She had questions. She had something that probably held the answers. Deep down, an inexplicable feeling crept into her stomach.
Perhaps, it was fear?
She feared that it might be something to do with Ram. Hugging her knees, she stared blankly into the space.
Krishna sat beside me.
“Ram told me about their relationship recently, about a week ago. He also told me that you knew about this when you saw them at a restaurant together. Ram is in a very bad state. He shaved his head unknowingly. He does not realise what he is doing, these days.”
“Restaurant? I never knew they were together till you told me. I didn’t even notice it. I have been so self-absorbed that I could not see my brother grieving.” Meera replied, confused by what Krishna said.
She could not recall a memory of seeing them in a restaurant.
“That’s not being self-absorbed. You are grieving too. You have to take care of yourself, as well.”
“Where’s Ram, Krishna?”
“He left early in the morning.”
Meera was fuelled to know the truth. She had no time to waste. Josephine had left not only her, but also her brother, distressed.
Why does the caste system define one’s reputation? We are in the 21st Century and my father prioritizes the caste system before his daughter’s life. How can he say he doesn’t care? He doesn’t care about how I feel. He raised me up for 20 years to get me married to a stranger from my caste. Tomorrow, I am going to talk to him and arrive at a decision.
(12 June 2015)
Meera insisted on partying right after the examination. Only if she had known the circumstances. Finally, I persuaded her to leave and met him. He reassured me that everything will be fine and we can tell Meera and his parents everything, tomorrow.
As she flipped to the next page, it was blank — unbelievable. Perspiration dotted her forehead as she frantically turned the pages over. Her eyes bulged at the sight of dried blood splattered on a page. On the following page, Josephine had written:
(12 June 2015)
My mother has given me poisoned milk. They have killed me to safeguard their honour, fearing I might damage their reputation. Such a situation should never arise for another girl after me.
Meera dropped the book from her hands, hands trembling. Hot tears streamed down her face. She regarded Mr and Mrs. Bhagat like her parents.
How could they do this to their one and only daughter?
She could not find the exact reason why Josephine was killed.
The atmosphere was suffocating for her. She lost the feeling of feeling as the last painful emotion of betrayal slammed into her. Crushed under the weight of betrayal of the Bhagat couple, she passed into oblivion of unconsciousness.
(Eight months later)
Finally, Meera found the courage to meet them. She had to move on from all that has happened. She was on her way to meet Josephine’s parents in jail. They were sentenced to death for honour killing and will be hung in 15 days.
Why would they kill a girl who had so much life in her? For their honour?
(Point of view of Mr Bhagat)
“Bhagat Singh, you have a visitor,” My jail warden called out to me.
Who would come to visit me? My only daughter has left the world. Apparently, I have killed her by poisoning. How could I kill my own blood by my hands? Honour killing? I could never do it. I did not even see the diary that Josephine had written. I have always wanted the best for her. Eventually, my wife and I had accepted the charge during the trials as we did not want our daughter’s death to be labelled as a suicide. We were going to be hung to death in a few days. I met my wife, handcuffed, already seated in a room with someone on the other side of the glass. It was Meera. She, who had accused of murdering Josephine, had come to visit us. I silently sat down.
“Why?” She asked. “Why would you kill her? How could you do that?”
Uncontrollably, I let out a chuckle at the irony. My wife glanced at me before speaking up.
“Meera, we have no idea what Josephine wrote in that diary. I did not even know she wrote a diary. We only knew she loved Ram after you said it during the trial. How could you think we killed our own daughter?”
“Do you think I can save you from this end if you manage to convince me with your world class acting? I just wanted some answers. Do you think you will be able to provide me with some, Mr Bhagat?”
I looked up, straight into her eyes.
“Meera, I would have if I had known any. She committed suicide. I have admitted it. But, the world does not need to know that. I have had enough of this world. Anyways, how is Ram?”
“He is doing better. If you have nothing to tell, then, I have no reason to be here. Bye.” She stood up and headed for the door.
Abruptly, she paused and turned around, a sinister smile breaking out on her face.
“How are you, Mr. and Mrs. Bhagat? It has been a long time.” She turned the chair around, sitting with her legs crossed.
“Meera? What’s wrong?” My wife asked out of concern.
She let out a guffaw.
“Radhi. I am Radhi. Nothing is wrong, Mrs. Bhagat. I am just so happy to see both of you seated in this outfit.” She laughed hysterically.
My wife looked at me with furrowed eyebrows.
“What are you talking about, Meera?” I asked.
“Once again, Mr. Bhagat. I am Radhi, not Meera. I am talking about Josephine’s murder. What else would I talk about to you?” She asked, her eyebrows raised.
“Okay, fine. Radhi. So, you claim to know what happened to Jo?”
“Of course, I do. Isn’t that what I am here to tell you? I can’t leave you to die in suspense now, can I?” She cackled. “Do you remember when I left that night, Mrs. Bhagat?”
“You left around 9 pm.”
“Ha-ha! That was Meera, Mrs. Bhagat. I came at 10:30 pm. Do you remember, now?”
“You said you left your phone and went up to her room. I gave you the milk to pass it to her. “
My wife let out a gasp.
“Yes, that’s when I left Meera’s bag beside the diary I wrote. Your daughter did not even have a diary. Then, I passed her the very sweet milk. Minutes later, I watched the beautiful sight of her spewing blood all over the table.”
She sat there with a wide grin on her face. I did not even know who she was. I saw Meera and Josephine grew up together since the age of four. She was like a daughter to me.
“Why?” I bellowed. “Why would you do that to her? She was your best friend.”
“She was Meera’s best friend, Mr. Bhagat.” Her eyes turned into slits.
“I am Radhi. And to answer your question, Ram had fallen in love with a girl from a different caste. What would have happened to my family’s honour if my relatives had seen them at the restaurant that day? What a disgusting sight I saw! I realised that the fool was too blinded by his love for Josephine, to end their relationship for the sake of our family’s honour. So, I knew it would be futile to talk to Ram. So, I was left with no choice. I had to eliminate Josephine.”
“Did you even think about us? Or even Ram?” My wife whimpered.
“Meera would have. Poor Meera. She came to ask you for answers when she had them in her. I knew Ram will get over it. In fact, he is very successful in his career, now. “
The timer went off, indicating the end of the session. My jail warden came to bring us out. I sat there with my mouth rigid and open, fists clenched with blanched knuckles.
My wife began to scream in desperation, “Get her! Someone arrest her! This psycho killed my daughter! “
I would have rather shot myself than hear all this truth.
How can someone kill another for the sake of one’s honour?