Vasudha Bhandari

Dark Reflections

Nearly every man on the street was familiar with Chakori, the wondrous beauty who graced the congested and mucky street where designer clothes in cardboard boxes, cheap cola drinks, fake jewelery, tea with the local flavor and spicy savories were sold. Women sulked at her arrival and shielded their husbands. Chakori somewhat relished this power. She felt amused. She wished she could tell the women that she was not coming for their precious husbands, but they might come to her later in the evening. She only cared about her snacks at 11 in the morning. This is how she started the day. She was no early bird, and definately not the one to eat healthy consciously. She loved spicy. She was the spice of the town. She might have bothered about the whispers and the stares few years back, but Indra told her she could not afford being bothered or ashamed. She did not even have to try to be indifferent now. She had already walked the path of seeking herself, perhaps way earlier than others, and was confident and assured in who she was.

She stopped by her regular stall. Sujit smiled and greeted her as he crushed two water pancakes for the fillings. Sujit was a good fellow, Chakori always thought. Or maybe he was too innocent. She sometimes felt that she needed to show him the way, but the man's childlike eyes always stopped her. Nevertheless she liked him, and he was one of the few people she could breathe easily with. 

As she waited for her treat, she saw two women sipping tea at the adjacent restaurant, immersed in a dialogue. The kind of women she disliked for their English ramblings, which she did not understand fully. Indra was making her learn English words like "sweetheart", "kiss", "breast". She heard the word "moon" from the ladies' conversation. She was delighted with the familiarity of the word. She was not naive and air headed like Indra, who thought that the moon is a big bulb placed by God to light the night. Chakori was aware that the moon is a piece of land, like the earth, and the light coming from it is merely the reflected light of the sun.

Then she heard "Chandrayaan", which seemed like an Indian word, but again far from her comprehension. Sujit decided to explain to Chakori what they were talking about. 

"They are talking about the Chandrayaan mission of our country Chakori. Looks like our country has successfully landed on the moon", Sujit told her.

"How is that possible?", asked a surprised Chakori who was wondering how the country could be on the moon right now. 

"We have sent our men on the moon. In today's times everything is possible. I have heard that other countries like America have already achieved it years back. 

They lock men in rocket and light fire behind it. It goes flying to the moon", said Sujit.

A gentleman who was drinking tea and had his focus on Chakori's bosom decided to weigh in :

"Actually, America has sent men on moon. But we have only sent a probe."

"Porobe? What is that?"

"It is a machine designed to investigate the land of the moon"

"Why will we send a machine?"

"Because the machine is far capable than human beings. It can send back information about the moon with accuracy."

It took some effort, but less than what the man had thought, to convey the layman explanation of the mission to her.

Chakori kept thinking about it throughout her way to workplace. She was astounded at the feat mankind had achieved. It was as if a pore had opened in her brain, and was hungry to absorb any moisture of knowledge. Suddenly she did not want to work today. The conversations formed inside her mind started stagnating her steps. But work was a must, else Indra would not be happy. 

Indra was waiting for the best bird in her nest. Her wolfish eyes lit up on Chakori's arrival.

"You are fifteen minutes late. Hurry up and get dressed", she said. 

Chakori went in and started getting ready. 

After she was looking what Indra called presentable, she helped herself to some tea and smokes and waited for her cue. 

"Chakori ! Client is here", shouted Indra.

An old man entered the room and started getting undressed.

At midnight, Chakori started walking home.

The street was friendly and peaceful at this time. It was the hour when even stray dogs slept. No glaring men or women. Just her and the effulgence of the moon. She looked up at the heavenly entity. There was something melancholic about it's gleam. The night lamp of the sky was actually a lonely world. 

She stopped by a house to peep at the regional language news channel from the window. The family had all eyes on TV and their back at her. She realised what the news channel was talking about. The probe. Now sitting on moon, exploring. 

She wondered if moon's exposure to humankind was a good thing or bad thing. Certainly, an achievement for us, Chakori thought. It's mesmerizing beauty was bound to attract humans. It might have thought long back that it was unreachable. She only hoped that it's innocence remained preserved.

She started to continue her journey home. 

She had never thought of anything on the way home but the food she will prepare before hitting the bed, and at times some bad moments in the workplace. But all was forgotten when she got her pay. Tonight was different. She was in a pensive state.

She remembered when she was 16, Indra told how her father had left her in the brothel as soon as she was born. He did not want a girl. Indra had taken care of her until she came of age and started contributing to the business. 

She rented her own place at a fifteen minutes walking distance from the brothel. She finally did not have to stay at the brothel after work. She could find her peace back home, away from Indra's banal talk.

Indra had named her Chakori, as she always named her girls after birds like Hansa, Koyal. Chakori always thought that Indra ran out of good names. But a client had once told her that the chakor bird is said to be in unrequited love with the moon. She had liked her name a bit more after that, but never so much as tonight. However, she thought she could even change her name to Chandni, the moonlight. And maybe someday she will find her true shine. Maybe someday she won't feel so lonely anymore.

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