The sun was waning beyond the mountains and dusk was swift on its heels. Karma painfully limped through the thickness of the abundant bushes in the uphill climb, fighting his fatigue, dwindling vision with only one ambition, the gravity of which belittled all hurdles. His mind brimming with unventilated disquiet and anxieties. Not because the venom of the bullet in his waist was spreading fast in his blood, not because life for him was on the ebb, but because he feared that Kamini may never know of his feelings for her. As he ambled through the cleaner path he rushed through in his head all the lost chances and missed opportunities of telling her his desires. Now in the face of his end he must speak out. He was determined. He wasn't when there were ample moments, now in all the insufficiency of his life, when the doors were closing, he was determined to express himself. Just a dying wish.
The voices in the search party were catching up. The disproportion between the velocity of his walking and that of the members of the group of men determined to catch him put them at a better chance of winning. Karma wasn't going to let this be easy though. His understanding of the valley and his knowledge of clarity beneath the obscurity of the forest put him at an insurmountable advantage, yet his failing vision and the toxins from the bullet constantly played their debilitating game against his strengths. He was a tough nut to crack. Had been so since his childhood, orphaned, thrown to the merciless realm of mountain bandits who used him and exploited his swift legs and quick hands to their gains. Except for Hazim, the oldest of them all, who caught the spark in Karma's persona and taught him the ways of the world. Made him the invincible character he was today. 'Never give in, never surrender, as long as you are breathing you have a chance at winning' the old man would often sermon him. Karma sensed an unspoken feeling of attachment with him. Took his words and training very seriously. Of all the things he was taught by him, Karma never forgot his mentor's preaching 'you're as strong as your weakness'. He thus never allowed any limitation, any point of surrender a place in his world. All of that had changed when Kamini came to stay with her uncle in their village. He was about 21, she 18.
In that moment when he first saw her, he was gripped by unknown powers that stirred and churned his guts and that made him feel alive to emotions unfelt by him before. He stood motionless, his trainings and beliefs slipping to the background, giving way to something universal and true. He began remaining lost, his aims faltered, his plannings began having loopholes. His heart began overpowering his mind. He was strong now, weak then, varying cluelessly between strange feelings. That was when Hazim stepped in and admonished him into making a choice, to be one of his men or to bow to his worldly desires of marrying the woman he loved and starting a family. Karma had to make a choice. But in order to do that he needed to tell Kamini and hear her answer. Spending the available opportunities in self doubt when Karma finally stepped up to the occasion, he was told that Kamini's hand had already been pledged in marriage.
Of all the bullet shots, dejection, physical abuse, hunger of his tender childhood and hopelessness he had experienced in his life, the pain which such news brought him, made them feel nothing more than needle pricks. It was as if something tore inside him. And a part of him died that day. Such numbing was the unfolding of that reality that he wanted to scream his throat dry yet couldn't utter a single cry, wanted to flow endlessly yet couldn't shed a single tear. A share of his heart turned stone, except for the remaining part which had to beat for survival, mere survival. He told himself that he would never look at Kamini ever again, he also swore that he would never look at any other woman. He lived his pledge for a pretty long time, till Bijli, the blue eyed dancer crossed his paths one day while he had sheltered himself in the town's infamous brothel from the uniformed hounds after murdering a local jewelry shop owner. Karma gave her a passing glance as they ran into each other. She gave him his heart in that fleeting moment. He was never there with her, she went wherever he went, a part of her fixed to him. She never took her eyes off him and followed him till the darkest corner of the alley into which he disappeared that evening. She waited for him for many days till finally her strong desires brought him to her when one night he was unwillingly ushered to the dark room by few of his gang mates. She gave herself to him in a way she had never before given herself to anyone. Till the farthest depths of her soul she let him have her. For her it was love, for Karma it was mostly rage, venting of it. After they would be done, Karma would lay spent, his eyes closed, his form heaving in peace. She would lay demure by his side, not closing her eyes for a second. Savoring every bit of him, his tranquil form, his chiseled face, the drops of sweat on his brow, the visible strength of his hands, his unkempt hair. She feared he would be gone forever. She feared if she closed her eyes he won't be there when she opened them. So she lay watching him. But Karma returned, night after night in a week and vanishing for weeks together. Bijli never grumbled or complained. She knew. A woman always somehow knows. She realized that with all the closeness to him, she would never cross the distance that still remained between them. She knew that he belonged elsewhere. But she never asked and he never spoke.
Karma saw through the darkening ambience, the hamlet where stood the almost wrecked hut in which Kamini lived with her family. He had never inquired whether she was happy, how many children she had and other points to her matrimony. He sauntered through the rugged path and arrived at the doorstep. He halted. Shaking, shivering within. Unsure of what he would see beyond the doors yet sure of the feelings he nurtured inside him. It has been years. The last time he had come this close, his heart had been through immeasurable agony. But in the face of his impending end he no more worried about being hurt. All that he thought of was letting his feelings be known to the woman whom he loved with all his heart even after all these years. He limped to the door and raised his hand to knock, waited for a couple of seconds and let his knuckles rap on the wood. In the silence of the valley, he could hear the clinking of the anklets approaching the inside of the door and imagined Kamini's beautiful feet adorned by them. He heard the footsteps stop and the latch of the door inside move. His heart began beating like a speeding train without anything to stop it. His mouth dry, his feet heavy, mind racing among a million glimpses imaginary and real. The doors opened slowly, creaking and halting mid way for a brief moment and then flinging open fully.
Their eyes met. She had gone through a sea of change. She looked worn out like one who has seen times' unkindness. Her eyes had lost most of their spark. Her hair unwashed, the dryness of lack of oil and water to nourish it. She looked frail and not the Kamini he had in his mind. She looked at him like she knew him. Word of his affections for her had reached her long back. Though the mouth which should have worded them never did. He noticed a faint line of tear moisten her cheek. Except the flow of that drop, nothing else moved about her expression. He saw it trickle all the way down her left cheek and permeate on her smooth skin. There was something about the way Kamini looked at Karma. As if she knew all this while that one day he would knock her doors, that someday he would come looking, someday he would give in. Karma couldn't guess what she was thinking. How could he ? He did not know that much before he decided to tell Kamini his feelings, she already knew of them. In the tiny village which they shared the sound of sneeze travelled through every nook and corner and here it was the talk of love of Karma, the man every youngster in the village wanted to grow up and become and whom every peasant worshipped. It was never surprising that Kamini had come to learn of Karma's feelings within days of their birth in Karma's heart.
'Can I step inside ?' Karma inquired faintly.
'You look hurt. Please come in' Kamini replied and walked upto him. She was reluctant to touch him but when she noticed that he could barely walk, she gave her hands around his shoulder supporting him all the way inside her hut. Making him sit on a tattered wooden chair, she rushed to fetch a glass of water from their earthen pot. The water was cool and Karma's dehydration made him gulp down the satiating contents of the glass which tasted even sweeter by the touch of Kamini's hands. Noticing him hold his waist and writhe in pain, she quickly went down on her knees, rolled up his shirt by his waist and saw the wound bleeding steadily. She was visibly horrified and then her expression changed to one of helplessness and regret. She managed to gather some cotton and cleaned his wound and tied a cloth around it to prevent further blood loss. The bullet was still inside him, unleashing its malice within his organs. Karma's eyes were drooping. He was barely able to keep them open. He had reached a point where the normal sense of hesitation and reluctance that clouds the ability to decide and act had released him from its clutches. Where all sense of rationality cease to matter and the only thing that concerns is the thought of accomplishing the unaccomplished, the distant dream, the root of all emotions that have driven us all our lives. In Karma's case it was the aim of revealing his immeasurable unaccomplished love for Kamini. Somehow the thing which he managed to suppress and ignore all his life became at that point in time the only valuable indulgence before he was to leave forever. Therefore all sense of inhibition and consciousness which had prevented him from so doing gave way to that urgency and Karma stretched his hand in Kamini's direction, his mouth open in a half smile and his forehead crumpled exhibiting the pain he was fighting with. He was sinking fast. Karma got off the chair his hand still stretched, trembling, his eyes shutting and opening in quick succession.
Kamini could not hold herself back. She embraced his palm and pulled herself close to him. She stood tantalizingly near to him. In all his agony, a part of Karma smirked inside thinking how all his life he spent dreaming of this moment and when it was about to end, he had the love of his life in his arms. There is a way in which the pleadings of a dying man works. It is difficult to say 'No' to it. It was impossible to tell from Kamini's demeanor whether she acceded to Karma's appeal out of sympathy or out of feelings which resonated that of Karma's. But for Karma it was all the same. The feel of her touch was enough to send Karma into a passage of bliss on his way to the life beyond. Once Kamini held his hand, Karma tightened his grip gently around her palm and held it with his life. Of all the dark glory and the accomplishments Karma had experienced in the past, nothing stood a chance before such momentary yet pious triumph. He slowly faltered in her grip to the ground and made a gesture to lie down. Kamini readily offered her lap to his wishes. There are ways in which life works which are beyond our fathoming. Once in her lap the words "I Love You" left his mouth as he looked straight in her eyes. She caressed his forehead and his hair. Ran her fingers reassuringly over his face. Then she began.
"I knew from the first time you saw me, that I was special for you. I was even told. But actually I knew of things before that." she rubbed her index finger on his cheeks and continued after a brief pause.
"I lost my heart to you in the same instance I saw you. But I wanted you to come up to me and speak of your love and I would have you loved the rest of my life. I still do. I had no choice but to wait for you to come to me. But that fortune never visited me, that moment never came. I waited. You never spoke. I still waited. After those never ending days and nights of waiting, I had no option but to concede to a marriage which was wish of all but me. You see a woman barely has a choice in such things. I wanted to be only yours but was given away to become someone else's. Someone who left me the very next day after our marriage and never returned. I could not go back. My father was already dying out of guilt. I didn't want to burden him further. In all the solitude and desperation I was somehow happy about the fact that I actually never became anyone's. That I was still only meant to be yours. So here I am. May be I was destined to wait for you. May be my lap always existed to bear your pleasing weight one day. But......" she abruptly stopped breaking into tears.
Karma raised one hand and gently put one finger on her restless lips. The regret of never trying to find out about Kamini became apparent in his face. The guilt of having given himself to another woman when the woman he wanted to die for was waiting for him ripped his heart. He gulped it all. Knowing that it was soon going to be over anyways. When Kamini became quiet with only tears brimming in her eyes, he spoke with much difficulty between gasps yet with absolute certainty
'Your smile is everlasting, it gives me all what all the riches I won in life couldn't.'
Then he ran his finger on her lips as she closed her eyes consumed by heartfelt emotions
'You are so beautiful Kamini. I look into your eyes. They are deep and full of love. I see your glow. Its serene like the mountains in the rains. I sense your affection. My soul stirs in your love. It wants nothing more. Its purpose is done.' He breathed hard trying to gasp as much air as he could.
'Your soft fingers run through my forehead. I find peace and perpetual tranquil. I think to myself how fortunate I am to be loved by you. You are as beautiful as the fairies I dreamt of in my childhood. Kamini could no longer hold herself. She began sobbing unstoppably, tightening her hold around his face, slowly burying her own on his forehead. Karma's eyes begin to close. His grip on Kamini's hand started to weaken. Life was on the move out of his form. He felt nothing numbed in love. Desires of this world had long left him. In his dying moments he was filled with love that he always wished for. His eyes were shutting with the picture of the woman he loved all his life. His last memory would be of this moment, the most beautiful one in his whole wretched life. His heart began slowing with Kamini's love in it. In the climax, life had given him the most wonderful gift he could ever dream of.
Mustering all his residuary strength, in the grip of excruciating hurt, he conveyed the most crucial words
"I am content. I found what I was searching for..... life gave me you, I couldn't have asked for more............... I must ....I must halt now". The doors of Kamini's house violently flung open by the kicks and blows of several men who barged in, with pistols and rifles, all dressed in Khaki to the hilt. Their rage and momentum froze upon what they saw. Their intense breathing forms calming down with passing seconds. As the glimpse before their eyes sank in them. The man who never gave in, who could never be made captive, who never had an Achilles heel, lay motionless, on the lap of a woman who held him close to her, crying with unpretending abandon, carressing with her trembling hands his still face, kissing his forehead every now and then.
In his life Karma belonged to the inescapable murkiness of the world he was forced to live in. And the opportunity that could have saved him from it was now his, though rendered pointless and infructuous by the destined delay. Yet he ended with contentment. His morose life beautified and adorned by the only thing that ever mattered to him. The leader of the search party removed his cap in condolence. He briefly closed his eyes, perhaps recalling all the chase he ever dedicated to the man considered invincible by all and sundry. He turned back and walked and others followed. Immortalized in fulfillment, the chapter of Karma had closed for eternity.