It was a moonless night. Sita was sitting alone in the garden; her head tossed back, legs crossed, feet moving without any sense of pattern. She didn’t want to accept to herself, but, she was anticipating him. She even drove away her maids. The familiar footsteps greeted her. She did not smile; she had not allowed herself that privilege. She adjusted her already neat saree, drew her legs close, and wore that morose look she had so internalized. Raavana had arrived.
He called her name. It reminded her of Rama’s melodic voice, laden with love and lust. She told herself that juxtaposing Rama into each and every object she perceives shows the intensity of her love. “But, love…”, she found herself questioning, “what is it, really? What exactly does one love when in love?”She gently nodded, without lifting her head. Raavana sighed.
If only the lucky prince of Saket had not won the competition that evening, Sita would have been Raavana’s. Sita, the five-year-old, had religiously garlanded Rama, the lanky boy touted to be her lifelong playmate. Sita had secretly lamented the idea of having a silly boy as a permanent playmate, to her friends. “Anybody who is focused on his archery, when an exquisite girl is around, does not deserve to live with her,” Raavana had thought. That’s why he forcibly brought her to his self-fashioned paradise, Lanka. He had pledged his kingdom, his life, his soul to her, and yet, she remained unmoved. His soul was probably as dark as his skin, but, she was his streak of illumination.
He knew how this story would end. Yet, he was strangely satisfied at that moment. He was looking at her, his eyes touching her with reverential sensuality. Sita heaved heavily, unable to hold the pleasure and pain, despite her angelic pretense of equanimity. Her hands clutched the tufts of grass saluting her and uprooted them with a diabolical force. She threw the bleeding grass in front of her, urgently getting back to the rest of the saplings. To him, the grass was the line of control she did not want him to cross. Raavana took a step back, afraid of enraging Sita any further.
Sita looked at him with a sense of startled joy. He was playing the romantic Sri Raga in his famed Veena. It was Hamsanandhi yesterday and Bhairavi the day before. He had chosen the scales he wished to play, she thought. She swayed with the wind, dancing to his tune, thinking he could not see her on that pitch dark night. She wore the gay abandon of an asura woman, forgetting the presence of another man. The man born out of darkness needed no flame to feel his love manifested in all its glory. He saw her like a fully pouted lotus at dawn. He was mutely exploring the Sita who was beyond the scope of Rama; this was Raavana’s Sita. Her eyes, half closed, her lips kissed with smile, her long black hair flying wildly across her face, he had her hypnotized. She would open her eyes from time to time and stare at his long fingers fervently, as if she was jealous of the Veena. He plucked at the strings vigorously, effortlessly commanding two of his twenty hands alternatively. He looked like he could use a few more pairs of hands, to pray for the night to extend till the end of humanity. This was as far as he could own Sita.
Sita opened her eyes, abruptly, conscious of the distant ray of light from a rekindled earthen lamp. She smoothed her hair and straightened her clothes, as if nothing had happened. Raavana was flabbergasted. He had had enough of her hide-and-seek games. Today, he had decided to seek.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You played Madhyamavati, the raga announcing the finale, instead of Sri, the one dipped in beauty and love.”
Decades of existence on earth, and not one soul dared to utter a word against the invincible Raavana, the learner of all ancient texts, an expert in playing the Veena. When she found a mistake, he found himself accepting with grace. Did she know that it was deliberate?
“What do you mean?” he asked politely.
Sita sang Sri Raga crisply, without unnecessarily touching Madhyamavati.
“Oh? That’s interesting. I’m sure this is something Rama taught you, isn’t it?”
“No, he doesn’t have the time for music, he is more of a warrior, a righteous king at heart,” Sita replied, and bit her tongue almost immediately, realizing the import of her words.
“I have all the time…,” Raavana had stopped the sentence midway, looking straight at her.
She averted his eye. She couldn’t even bring herself to compare the symbol of discipline and purity that her husband was to this third-rate over-achiever in front of her. He stood looking at her, reading her thoughts, motionlessly, not allowing his emotions coarse through his visage. He knew she would hold the ladies in his harem against her one-life-one-wife-husband. He knew she was the wedded wife of a very brave, handsome man, who was on his way to fight for her honour. He never competed with Rama on anything other than plain, old, unreasonably reasonless, love.
She sat still, her eyes watering, fixed to the ground. She understood his love for her – that was her curse. He understood her love for Rama – that was his curse. He looked at the sky when he heard the call for war and laughed at her soundlessly. That single drop of tear which stood precariously at the bonny corner of her eyes rolled down her cheek and landed on the soil. He let her waddle in the slush of her excuses, and walked back to the palace with a victorious gait.
Sita didn’t allow herself a smile. In the evenings that followed, she silently counted the death of each one of Raavana’s kin. When nobody was left to lead, she knew that the Emperor would take the field. She hoped to see him before that, just once. Maybe he could play some Mohana for her. When he did not turn up, she took that without protest. This was only the beginning of the excruciating torture; she had the rest of her life for fourth degree violence, she reminded herself.
But then, he came that night. Her eyes were now trained to see the tall, charcoal-tinted man who loved her ineffably, shining like a dark moon on that full-moon night. His eyes were not as radiant, his gait was not that brisk, his body was bleeding like his heart. She understood that Rama had given him a chance to redeem himself. Her aversion to Rama knew no bounds then – how could Rama make this man suffer any more? How could Raavana redeem his love? She plucked a fresh tuft of grass that had grown generously around her, as if drawing a sword, and walked towards him. She did not throw the grass between them this time; she held it close to her bosom. She turned her back towards him and sobbed violently. She faced him again, allowing him to see the details of her face. Her palms were joined in reverence, her eyes closed, tears streaming on to her chest, she said, “please…”