When Mala married Dilsher, the entire community was thrilled. One of the most beautiful girls, with her expressive dark eyes and her soft countenance, was marrying one of the most successful men in their community.
Dilsher was the eldest son of the Ranawats, with a large inheritance and a prestigious position within the BSD. Mala was guaranteed a life of luxury, complete with a doting, attractive husband who was the envy of the rest of the town.
As she removed her jewels on her wedding night, he came up behind her, softly placing his hand on her waist and reaching up behind her to unclasp the necklace she had been struggling with. With a bashful blush, she allowed him to remove it, encouraged by the love shining in his eyes for her.
The quiet ceremony in the temple with the bells tolling ominously behind them should have told Mala that something was wrong. But she was too in love to care. There was no pundit, no witnesses. Just Mala and Tejawat, standing in front of Shivji with a flaming fire next to them.
He reached for the sindoor, his eyes focused solely on her. She was flattered by the attention he showered on her, always complimenting her and expressing his love. She stepped towards him, allowing him to pinch the sindoor and streak it in her part.
He gently took the mangal sutra in his hands, brushing his worn fingers against her neck as he clasped it, making her shiver in anticipation. He swept her up in his arms, holding her close to him as he stepped into their large haveli.
She was the mistress of this mansion now, the queen behind the successful king. She allowed him to place her on their bed, ignoring the pangs of uncertainty in her stomach.
She was the queen.
Mala conceived within months of her marriage to Dilsher. She glowed like a princess, her face radiant with the joy of carrying a life within herself. She ignored the spiteful eyes of her younger sister, focusing solely on those of her adoring husband.
He was extra doting now that she was pregnant, always making sure she was okay. Nothing was good enough for his Rani and his much loved child. He banished her from the kitchens, telling her they had servants for this kind of thing.
She rested her hand on her generous belly as she walked through the market, joy gleaming from her face. She brushed off the whispers that it was bad luck to flaunt yourself like this, that nothing good could come of a woman who made sure everyone knew what she had.
She would love this child more than anything in the world, whether it was a girl or a boy. This child, would be born into prestige and live a life as the child of the most beautiful woman in the village and the most respected BSD officer. She would shower her love upon him or her for their entire life, she thought, as she caressed her belly. Her child would never feel pain.
“Rani Thakurain, I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can conceive. We have tried everything we know. Have you considered… other options?” The doctor looked up at the stricken woman from the brim of his glasses, studying her gorgeous, tear filled eyes.
He watched as Raja Thakur placed a soft hand on his wife’s shoulders, turning her towards himself and pulling her close as he murmured soft, reassuring statements in her ears. It seemed as if the couple did not care who was watching them, the doctor thought, as he averted his eyes.
It had been almost two years since her marriage to Raja Thakur, and she missed the one thing in her life that she had left behind. Not a day went by that she didn’t think of her son, the most precious thing to her. Rudra, his name was. He symbolized passion, fury, and also punishing love.
They had attempted to conceive, but Mala simply wasn’t capable of it. Her once thick, lustrous black hair was now beginning to streak with white, forcing her to cover it with copious amounts of the finest black dye.
She didn’t have to fear. Raja Thakur was an understanding man, he loved her more than anything else. She was his Rani, the joy of his life. He would never sacrifice her. Perhaps she should ask him if she could visit her son, the one she had told him about so many times. He must have grown up by now, finished his school. What was he doing now?
“It’s a pity, really, that he suffered in that blast. Such a beautiful wife and a limping husband?”
“She had it coming, you know. Mala. She was always flaunting her good fortune. At some point, it’s bound to run out.”
“At least he became an invalid in honor, right?”
Mala seethed as the women laughed, walking away and failing to notice the streaks of tears lining the woman in the shadows. Dilsher was still handsome and young, but he had gained a limp on a particular difficult mission.
The doctors said he may never be able to walk properly. He would always need help with things, his asthma only getting worse with the ash he had been exposed to because of the blast.
He would still retain his prestigious position, of course- but he would be at a desk job now. They had showered medals and honors on him, touting his courage and bravery for saving his companions at the risk of himself.
But she wasn’t perfect anymore, her life was shattered. She, the beautiful Rani, was now the wife of an invalid. She swallowed tightly, stepping out of the shadows of the tent into the market.
“Excuse me, miss.” She turned to see a tall, handsome man, offering her his pristine, white handkerchief. She reached for it, wiping her tears away.
“A woman as beautiful as you, beautiful enough to be a queen, should not be crying.” He walked away, leaving Mala staring after him in awe.
Two months later, she ran away, away from the imperfect family she had with the Ranawats. The man, a king in his own right, would give her back the life she dreamed of. Her only regret was leaving the little boy sleeping in his bed, a full glass of milk by his side.
“You want to kill me.” Thakur’s eyes were laden with fury, an almost insane look filling his angry face. Rudra stood in front of him, his gun loaded and pointed at his face.
“You tried to kill my wife, my Paro- the woman who means more to me than anyone else. You ruined the lives of her village people, marrying thousands of women off into prostitution without a second thought. You’re a traitor, a villain who doesn’t deserve to live.” Rudra spit out, his calm, barely controlled anger spilling over at the horrid man in front of him.
“I did it for her. For my Rani. To give her everything she had dreamed of. You know who she is, don’t you?” He saw Rudra flinch, but he didn’t back down, his hands tight on the gun he was pointing at Raja Thakur.
“I’m aware, yes.”
“She left you, your crippled father, for a life with me. A life of perfection, the life of a queen. The life she deserved. You wouldn’t… take that away from her, would you now?”
His words almost had the desired effect. He could see the hurt and pain fill the younger man’s eyes, the agony of betrayal clear in his gaze. But Rudra still didn’t back down, his grip only tightening on the weapon in his hands, nearly pressing down on the trigger.
“I would, if I knew she wanted it.” Thakur stepped back in surprise, not anticipating that reaction from the son of his wife.
“She would never betray me.” He spit out, turning around to call her name.
“Mala! Mala, come here and tell your son to let me go! Tell him you want to stay with me, in this life of prestige as my queen.”
To his utter shock, Mala did not come down from the staircase behind him. She stepped out from behind the broad shoulders of his son, her hair streaked with white that she hadn’t covered. Her sari was torn at the edges, the fine silk stained with grease and soot. She was bare of her jewels, her eyes downcast as she fiddled with her pallu.
“Nahi. Main aapke saath nahi jaoongi. You’ve ruined the lives of everyone, everyone I love. You nearly killed my Paro, the girl I treated and loved as my own daughter. I- I cannot believe I left my husband, my son for you. You vile man. And I am no less than you for ignoring this madness for so long. I will not come with you, Tejawat. I will stay with my son.”
Her words were laced with certainty, a trait he never had seen from Mala before. He looked at her in shock and disbelief, feeling the knife of betrayal swing through him as the woman he had done everything for, stepped over the line to the other side.
“Mala! I did this for you. Can’t you see? This is all for you, Rani. For you! I love you, Mala. Mala, please don’t do this.” His voice grew hysterical. He could see the pain in her eyes, the love that still remained as she shook with a combination of disgust and anguish. He awaited her response, knowing she would choose to come with him.
“Nahi, Tejawat. I would rather live with imperfection, than of gilded perfection stained by deceit.”
He broke completely at her statement. It was not worth fighting on any longer, if she was not by his side. It wasn’t worth it, not if he didn’t have her.
He slowly dropped his hand, still clutching the gun, watching as Rudra’s eyes widened in surprise. Before Rudra could do anything, he lifted the gun to his own head, and pulled the trigger.
The last thing he heard was her screams..
Mala stepped into the haveli, the cold draft of the air hitting her hard in the face. Her son’s hand grasped her wrist tightly, as if he was afraid she would run away. She walked slowly over to the room, opening the door with a loud creak.
She saw Paro get up to greet her, her eyes shining with affection. But her eyes, were only focused on the man in front of her in the bed, the man with a lotion being pressed into his lame leg.
She heard his sharp intake of breath, the quiet whisper of her name on his lips.
She walked up to him, collapsing at his feet in tears. She couldn’t look him in the eyes, the eyes that had once shone in love for her. Laying her pride aside, she did the one thing she had never done for anyone in her life.
“I’m sorry.” She whispered.
“I’m so sorry.”