Lalit holds a Mechanical Engineering Degree from the Indian Institute of Technology and an MBA from Columbia University, NYC. He has worked with Xerox and various consulting engineers. In addition, he owned a garment private label business for several years. He has attended two writing workshops led by Peter Murphy and Judith Lindberg, both published authors.
A Canary’s Song
Arjun planted a banner for Autistic children when he won the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition held at the Chicago Hilton. The auditorium reverberated with the applause of the packed audience. Standing on the center podium, with a gold ribbon that dangled from his neck, he was oblivious to what went around him. He deserved a victory lap, instead, he shook his head side to side like a cartoon character. All he could think about was Auntie Arushi who was in the crowd with his dad. A Canary sang Arjun’s victory. A song that commemorated his triumph. Before any of the officials could apprehend him, Arjun darted towards his aunt and very soon he was in her arms. This was his victory lap. It was Auntie Arushi who deserved kudos for the achievement of this autistic child. She bega Arjun’s serious preparation six months ago when she bought the latest version of the Thesaurus for him. Each day she earmarked words to be learned: Arjun went home and memorized the meaning of words and next day would be the day of reckoning. This is when Arjun and Abhay came to the temple where Arushi was a helper to the chief priestess, Anandiji.
*** Life often is uncharitable to you. Many heartaches had dogged father and son which began with the apocalyptic trick by the almighty. Arjun was born as an autistic child and a few years later his mom died in a car crash. Left were vestiges of a shattered life, a life that could be bearable only due to the monumental bond that existed between father and son and the common thread of their remembrance for their departed loving mom/wife. In the early 70s of India, there were no opportunities for autistic children. Life was a humdrum existence, relegated to eating, sleeping and aimlessly spending the day. In many cases, even that fell short. With normal siblings, attention was focused on them. Arjun was not subject to this competition. He was an only son. He had the full attention and love of his dad. Abhay, his dad, forwent his career as a spin bowler for the National Cricket team of India. *** Arushi experienced the frightening dream that recurred often at night. An effigy of the evil emperor, Ravana, from the epic Ramayana careened forwards which trapped her beneath. His flaming eyes which burnt red terrified her Followed immediately was an image of Rashid who sat atop and crushed her. She woke up in cold sweat, shivered as if she was doused with ice-cold water. For a few moments, she froze, incapable to get up, lie down or go back to sleep. She then got her composure back, got up and jumped out of bed. It was not that she had gotten over her trauma, but this was the only way she could cope. Arjun reeled from the celebrations at the boisterous Cultural Day Event at school. He sat with children minus his regular aide, watched the incredible performances prepared by various cultural groups in the school. While others enjoyed the celebration, it felt like a major earthquake to Arjun. He was so uncomfortable in this new noisy and hectic environment, that he shrunk into his cocoon, felt threatened. He stopped talking. Mercifully, the event ended and soon he was at home with his dad. Abhay felt his son acted abnormal, not talking, eating or even responding to any stimuli. He felt guilty to not have attended the school function due to a bout of flu. He counted on the aide to be with Arjun, but now found out, when he called the school, that she had played AWOL. This irked him, he was angry, but this was not the time to fret. He had to bring his son out of this coma. He knew he failed and immediately thought of Arushi, the new girl, at the temple who had arrived from India to be Anandiji’s, the temples head priestesses’ assistant. Arjun took a liking to her and was very happy in her charge. It was about five PM when he entered Sri Venkateswara Temple in downtown Pittsburgh. His eyes looked for Arushi, who had begun to attract him but was like an elder sister to Arjun. He walked into the office, and lo and behold, he faced Arushi. After pleasantries, he told her why he had come. Arushi told Abhay to go to the main Puja Room, the main room of worship, and help Anandiji prepare for the evening rituals. It took but a moment for Arjun to warm up to her. She went up-to little Arjun, knelt in front of him and pulled him into an embrace, She stroked his temple, looked into his eyes and said, “Arjun, what is the matter? Did you make any new sketches? You were making one of the Statue of Liberty. Did you complete it?” “I don’t have any new sketches. I didn’t do any more on the statue. It is just like it was before.” “Why not? Don’t you feel like it? You do such wonderful drawings.” “Today and for the past few days, Rachel has been very mean to me. She showed me a drawing she drew and asked me how I liked it. I told her the truth. The head-on the character was too large for its body, and the colors did not match. I told her the truth, and since that time, she won’t talk to me. During the gym, I fell twice and all the kids laughed at me, especially Rachel. Also, the school function felt like the eruption of a volcano.” Arjun had let out the mother lode. Arushi was aware of his autism and knew this kind of behavior, and so was sympathetic. At least, he had begun to talk and open up with her. According to his dad, he wasn’t even doing that. She asked him if he would like to have an “Imarti and Coconut Barfi, popular Indian sweets. Arjun responded with a resounding yes. They went to the stock room, at the back of the temple and enjoyed eating the sweetmeats, sitting on chairs beside a table. After polishing off the sweets, she asked him if he would like to eat poori-bhaji, deep-fried bread and vegetables. Not only did he eat, but he ate to his heart's content. He blurted out, “Auntie you are so pretty and nice. I love you.” Arushi felt an affinity to this motherless boy. He reminded her of Jyoti, her little doll brother who had perished during the mass killings of Hindus by Muslims during their uprising in Kashmir in 1990. Alongside Jyoti, her Ma and Pitaji were also killed in the blazing fire when the Muslim crowd ignited their house. Having mollified him, she said, “Arjun don’t worry about what other children say. You are so good at sketching and spelling. You are number one in both these areas. Just keep improving and you will win the National Spelling Bee Competition one of these days. Don’t you want to?” “Yes, auntie, I will from now on, I will start learning new words and will finish the Statue of Liberty sketch. ” It was heartening to see the relationship that developed between the two. It was therapeutic for Arushi, to focus on a mission to help and improve Arjun, leaving her past behind. For Arjun, he found a sympathetic ear, which boosted his morale Abhay’s Story Abhay Mathur was having a bittersweet moment. His fingers were delivering magic. His spin bowling was decimating and mowing down the Tamil Nadu batsmen in quick succession. He was on a rampage. In the first inning, he had captured eight wickets conceding only sixteen runs. In the second inning, though not as stellar, yet praiseworthy, five wickets for only eighteen runs. Though his teammates were giving him rapturous applause, his heart sank. He bled, having lost his wife Rima five days ago when she was hit by an automobile as she walked back from the local provision store. The driver was drunk, which caused him to lose control of his vehicle, who slammed down Rima. In an act of sheer fortitude, he hopped onto a flight from Bombay and made his way to the cricket grounds of Madras. He was part of the team, that in the semi-finals eked out a victory against the Railways. Today, his team, Bombay, was pitted against the other finalist, Tamil Nadu. The night before the match was filled with some pleasant memories of his nine years with Rima, then shattered by the painful episode of the day he lost her. He was delirious. Ranjana, their family friend, took Arjun away to shield him from the aftermath, and the vast array of family and friends that had descended on the house to give condolences and sympathy. Abhay was tormented by having to live without his sweetheart. When he arrived on the grounds, he was tense and nervous. They say that a little nervousness is good. Abhay was very keen and focused that day. It showed in his results. He had skittled the opponents like falling dominoes placed edge to edge. This was the best Ranji Trophy performance of his career. Bombay won by 123 runs clinching the trophy. The victorious team's triumphant return was plastered all over the dailies and magazines. Its reception at the airport was tumultuous and the celebrations by jubilant fans went on for several days. It was a major civic event. But after that, what would happen? He asked Ranjana to bring Arjun home, who had asked for mommy and daddy. He found daddy, but what about mommy? At first, Abhay was in a quandary. What does one tell a child of eight years, that mommy was never going to be around? Should he hedge around the question and wait for a time when he was older. He vacillated for a few days, but in the end, he decided to be direct. He asked Arjun, “Arjun, do you love your mom?” “Yes, Dad.” “Do you think, she is a nice person?” “Yes, Dad. But, why are you asking these questions?” “I will tell you in a moment. Do you know that there is a God who stays in heaven and who decides on what is happening on earth?” “You and mom have told me about this. My answer is yes” “Let me tell you that he often wants the best humans to live with him and your mom was the best. Do you agree with me on that?” “Yes, my mom is the “bestest” person on earth.” “That is the reason why your mom is not with us. God wanted a few good people, and so he picked on your mom. She is with Him.” Whether Arjun understood this convoluted argument, it is hard for us to guess, but he got the drift. His mom was now in heaven, never to return. This was a heavy blow, and he pined for his mother but knew that that desire was never going to be fulfilled. His mother was lost to him forever. A week after the Tamil Nadu game, Abhay received earth-shattering news. The Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) invited him to join in the First Cricket Test Match as India’s spin bowler against the West Indies to be played in Madras on September 7. The problem was that he was to join the Sewickley Academy, in the USA as their physics teacher on September 4. Too many momentous things happened in Abhay’s life. The sledgehammer blow of Rima’s passing away, the invitation to join the National Cricket Team, which meant he had a very promising career in cricket and juxtaposed with these events was the joining date at Sewickley Academy. He, with Rima’s consent, applied to the Academy to teach physics some six months ago. They were taking this step primarily for Arjun’s sake. There were good programs in the States for autistic children, including classroom aides provided by the Board of Education. They wanted a better and meaningful life for Arjun so they were ready to disrupt their cozy life in India. But, this offer for the National Team of India meant a lot more money, a glamorous life, and world recognition. Short Rima, Abhay felt a heavy weight on his shoulders. What should he do? He didn’t have to think long. With Rima’s absence, Arjun’s life would be greatly affected for the worse. If he accepted the Academy’s offer, Arjun’s future would become more promising and there would be a change of scenery which would be a welcome change. He decided to forego fame and opted for his son’s welfare. Arushi’s Story January 19, 1990, had been one ugly night in Srinagar. From the mosque’s loudspeakers droned out three taped slogans all night long and fairly frequently during the daytime as well,
-“Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai” If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say “Allah-O-Akbar”.
-“Yehan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa” What do we want here? Rule of Shariah
-“Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batao raas te Batanev San” We want Pakistan along with Hindu women, but without their men
As Arushi returned from a friend's place, a couple of lanes away, she felt a violent push. A large man, giant size, threw her on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. There was no time for resistance and besides what resistance could she offer. Her frame was small versus a man twice her size. No one heard her screams. She felt herself bobbing as the man sprinted toward his destination, which turned out to be a two-story house with faded exterior walls and a narrow staircase leading to the second floor. At the end of the staircase, was the padlocked entry door. Her assailant whipped out a key from his pocket, opened the lock, moved into the room and deposited her in the middle. The abduction took place in less than five minutes. He flipped the light on, and that is when she saw the man. Standing at 6 feet tall, he was a big man and quite athletic. She had just begun to take in the scene when without any warning, he grabbed her blouse and tore it open. He yanked her bra and started to massage her naked breasts violently. She offered resistance by kicking his feet and biting his hand. What happened next subdued her rebellion. He brutally slapped her face several times and pushed her violently onto the cot. Next, her trousers came off and he raped her vigorously. After satisfying himself, the man left telling her not to put on her clothes. All this happened so quickly, she had little time for reflection. She stood in the middle of the room, staring vacantly, for what seemed like an eternity. After a while, her nakedness seemed irksome, but the man had said not to put on her clothes. She was so brutalized that it took a lot of courage to dress, being apprehensive all the while. It must have been about three hours when he returned. His shriek, when he saw her in clothes, was deafening. He came up to her and shook her violently and then put his palm on her face and pushed back, till it hurt. He then disrobed her as before, threw her on the cot and raped her again. This time he gave her salwar, pants, but took away her blouse and locked it in an aluminum trunk. He said, "you are not going to get your blouse as punishment. Just stay in your pants." He then went up to the kitchen, cooked, ate, giving her some and then he left the house. In a semi-naked state, with spirits broken, in a stupor, she had all night to ponder She sat curled up in a corner of the bed crossing her knees with both hands. So savagely attacked, she was desensitized. Arushi’s self-worth came cascading down. Her virginity was breached, and she felt unclean. Somehow, she felt that the world would hold her as less of a person, from being whole to one who was imperfect. She blamed herself for going to Sakshi’s house, but since she lived so close, it had seemed to be all right. She now reasoned that due to the tense atmosphere in the city of Srinagar, she should have stayed home. There was no reason to be brave, even though she had not seen her friend for over a month. *** Arushi should have stopped blaming herself. It was the night of January 19, 1990, when the biggest massacre of Kashmiri Pandits and their subsequent exodus had occurred. Over 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits left en masse that night. This was the night when Muslim neighbors, friends, and colleagues, turned against them. Frenzied mobs, thirsty for Brahmin blood, roamed the streets and encircled Pandit houses. That very night her house was burnt down with no survivors. Her mom, pa, and brother, Jyoti, perished in the blaze. They had tried to come out of the house but were pushed in by the angry crowd. Her dad had been smitten by a sword on his face cutting a deep flesh wound. She found out about this tale, from a moderate Muslim who was present that night. She met him at the New Delhi refugee center. *** Arushi came out of her reverie. She sat on the edge of the cot as the blaring slogans kept repeating from the loudspeakers in the mosques. She was petrified, shaking, thanking the Lord that at least her life was spared. She sat frozen all through the night. It was a cold night, but she did not have the presence of mind to go under the blankets, which were laid out on the cot. All she could do was to berate herself. Why did she come out of the house? There was tension in the city, she should have taken heed. Ma had admonished her, saying it was too late in the evening. But she had insisted and had her way. Early in the morning, he returned, seeing her sitting in the same position. He let out a guffaw, laughed boisterously. He then pushed her on the cot, laid down next to her, pulled the blankets over and started to play with her body. It ended with her being raped once more. He then went to sleep. In a span of one night, she was raped three times. He slept till noon, and when he got up he completed his morning routine. He then spoke, “My name is Rashid. What’s yours?” When she didn't reply the first time, he asked again, “What’s your name?” She answered, “Arushi.” “You are lucky to be in here with me. At least you are safe. Last night was a night of terror for you Pandits throughout the entire city. There was rampant pillage, burning, looting, rape, and killing on a level never seen before.” When Arushi showed no emotion, he said, “Do not try to escape, because that is only in your best interest. There are young Muslim men on the streets who are looking for Hindu women. They will first rape you and then keep you in bondage or kill you.” At this point, this information didn’t matter to Arushi as she was numb. She could not think about escape. As a gesture of reassurance, he told her, “As long as you listen to me and do what I want, you will be safe.” He took her to the kitchen and showed her utensils and provisions and asked her to cook for the two of them. She was to do this regularly from now on. From then time’s march began. Days turned into nights and night into day as several days passed. It seemed like months to her. The two things she loathed were the blaring loudspeakers from the mosques and the frequency with which Rashid savaged and desecrated her body. One night he came up with a new evil request, “I know I am a good fucker. You must be enjoying my fuck. Why then don’t you moan? From now on make those sounds or else I will beat you.” This new demand was onerous, but she had no recourse. She started to play-act the sounds. With each wail, she recognized her helpless situation and its grotesqueness. To subdue her, he reminded her from time to time that she should not think of escaping. The young Muslim marauders outside would wreak untold acts on her and her body, and they might even kill her. In between, she had not much to do except straighten the tiny house and cook. Since there was only one cot, she had to sleep under wraps with him. Rashid was uneducated and could not claim any training in a trade. As such, he did not have a job. He made do with odd jobs from merchants and households. Never married he frequented prostitutes when he had the money, which was not very often. Arushi’s arrival was a godsend. He felt empowered and exhibited complete control over her, especially her body. He liked to boss her around, terrify her frequently and enjoyed his domination. By now, she was resigned to her fate. Rashid felt less threatening and in actuality he was. As long as she willfully kept satisfying his lust, things were fine. Her submission, without confrontation, was the price of his good behavior. As much as she was coerced and resigned to her fate, her psyche was in rebellion, lonesome and shrieked with pain, crying out for revenge. Things got worse one day when Rashid brought over another man, middle-aged having a goatee. He asked her to bring some snacks and tea. She did what was requested. They had some small talk for about half an hour and then Rashid said, “I am leaving, and Reza will stay back. You have to please him with anything he wants. Just consider that he is me. Fulfill his desires.” With that, he left. By now, she knew what she was being asked to do and it turned out that she was right. Reza tried to take off her clothes, but she resisted. She did not let him have his way. Frustrated, the man left leaving the door locked. When Rashid came back, he unleashed punishment which felt like molten lava flowing down her neck. His first acts were tight slaps and then, pulling her by her hair, he led her to the bathroom, disrobed her completely and poured a bucket of cold water over her. After that, she was cowered into submission for Reza. He came once or twice a week, raped her and then leave. Rashid was making money from Reza. Arushi was fed up. She had thought of taking her life by slitting her wrists but found she did not dare to do so. The result was that she made her second compromise. She felt so used, but other than cracks in her soul, there was precious little she could do. She asked the Almighty when this dreadful night would come to an end and new dawn would arrive. Dawn did arrive one day. There was loud thumping on her door when Rashid was not there. The voice on the other side said that he was a Major in the Indian Army. After that, she heard the sounds of a hammer trying to pry open the lock. Soon, Major Rawat rescued Arushi, introduced himself, he said, “I am on a special task force to find and rescue women such as you. We captured Rashid yesterday and on interrogation, he told us about you.” He further explained, “We will take you to the Tourist Reception Center at Lal Chowk. From there you will be taken to the refugee camp in Jammu and then onwards to New Delhi. Arushi was so distraught that she could not comprehend what the Major said. However, she felt relieved and cried involuntarily. Here was a person who meant well, a characteristic she had forgotten. She lunged down and touched the Major’s feet, thanked him profusely. Major Rawat picked her up and said, “You don’t have to worry from now on. Your safety is in the hands of the Indian Army. We will take you to a refugee camp and take steps to normalize your life.” He held, consoled and reassured her and after a few minutes, took her down to his jeep and transported her to army barracks. After a couple of days, aboard the state-run Srinagar Transit Corporation bus, under armed escort, she arrived at the Jammu refugee camp. Some normalcy had returned to Arushi, but she still felt battered. Then, during a physical with a gynecologist, she said, “Doctor, I have to tell you something about my captivity in Kashmir, but feel afraid to do so” “You don’t have to because there are many women here that have gone through what happened to you.” She tried to coax her, “Being raped was everyone's lot. Is that what happened to you?” This opening by the doctor gave her courage. She said, “Yes, that is what happened to me. Rashid used to rape me several times a day. I was fed up, and wanted to slit my wrists, but was a coward. I have no right to live. I am unclean.” “You are nothing of the sort. You are a victim. Don’t penalize yourself. Just look forward to tomorrow and live your life without guilt and with happiness.” “Well, even if I can do that, what about the fact that I have missed my periods twice. What does that mean?” “That you may be pregnant. Let’s get a test done.” The test revealed that indeed she was pregnant. The doctor advised, “Arushi you have two options, to either abort or bring the pregnancy to term. If you consider taking the life of a fetus as immoral, then you will give birth to this baby. But you may consider carrying this fetus to full birth as even more immoral given the circumstances of your impregnation. In that case, you will abort. The choice is yours.” It certainly was a dilemma, but in name only. She instantly knew what she had to do. She could not live with a baby that reminded her of her days of horrific captivity. In as much as to abort was immoral, it was the lesser of two evils. She aborted her fetus and thereafter arrived in New Delhi at its refugee camp. Arushi was collateral damage to the uprising of Kashmiri Muslims. Her asylum status was granted by the US Consular Office and in six months, she was in New York City and then, by her request, was at the Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburg, where she wanted to work as a volunteer to the head priestess of the Temple. Arushi was shattered. Though she had arrived at a haven physically, her very being was in turmoil. She could not bury the horrors of Srinagar. What did help was the peaceful ambiance at the temple and her daily duties. She assisted in general cleaning, vacuumed a very large area in several rooms, helped in the kitchen with cooking, participated and helped in the morning and evening puja. During festivals, extra duties were assigned to her. Life was tolerable. She liked her roommate Kusum. *** Arjun arrived on the shores of America when he was eight years old, started his studies in second grade, when in fact he should have been in grade four. The transition from India was not easy. He regressed in his skills from an eight-year-old to a six-year-old. He was behind, but now he fell back even further. To assist him in his studies and social skills, the school system assigned him an aide who helped some, but still, it was an uphill climb. He exhibited symptoms of an autistic child. He hit himself out of frustration, threw himself around the floor. When he latched on a subject or project, he went deep in it. He struggled with eye contact and was not very talkative. Abhay saw a developmental pediatrician who recommended speech and occupational therapy for Arjun. This led to Arjun being treated by a therapist once a week, which led to marked improvement. By November, Abhay fell in a groove as the physics teacher at the prestigious private Sewickley Academy. Abhay’s experience from India was coming in handy where he had taught higher-level classes. Sewickley prided itself as an avant-garde institution and its promotional material read, “As Pittsburgh’s premier private, coeducational Pre-k through Grade 12 school, Sewickley Academy is distinguished by not only its rigorous academics and outstanding faculty, but, also by its student-centered approach to teaching and learning, to which every child is challenged to explore and excel to his or her highest ability. Exceptional programs, small classes, and talented faculty help our students become conscientious leaders, critical thinkers and responsible members of a global community" A year went by and the two assimilated into life in the US. Arjun responded to treatment and was becoming normal. As a cricketer, Abhay loved sports, so he became an avid fan of American football. Helping him was the fact that Pittsburgh had a major NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fairly soon, he acquired a working knowledge of the teams, team players and rules of the game. This ensured his greater enjoyment of the game. Helped in this effort were Monday mornings in the staff room where each of the staff touted their favorite matches, as well as how the Steelers had performed. Abhay earmarked Sunday afternoons and evenings for watching NFL matches on TV. Joined in was Arjun, who did not understand all the technicalities of the game, but had begun to enjoy all the hoopla. Finally came a time, when with a fellow teacher and his son, Abhay and Arjun went to watch an actual game at Three Rivers Stadium. They enjoyed the outing and the game and as a consequence began to visit live games. Father and son developed another interest, going to the Venkateswara Temple frequently. Besides reverence, Arjun developed an affinity for auntie Arushi. The two of them sat in the Bhandar, stockroom, where she fed Arjun sweets, Poori Alu, deep-fried bread and vegetables. They sat at the table and she read Amar Chitra Katha comics, which she had purchased at the Indian grocery store. These comics drew from the best stories from Indian history and mythology. She introduced Arjun to the great epics of India, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, talked about the country’s courageous kings, from the Rajput and Maratha dynasties, and later on about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the revered martyr Bhagat Singh, both of whom fought against the British. She told him about the man in a loincloth, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Bapu) who drove the British out of India by nonviolent means. She ordered Aesop’s Fables” from Amazon, a collection of short stories about animals. These animals were the central protagonist of the tale which had a moral timbre. She impressed on Arjun with the morals of each story. At times, she wanted to talk to him about the Valley of Kashmir: Pahalgaon from where you could trek to the Amarnath Cave Temples, the Hindu shrine; Sheesh Nag Lakes; the pony trek to Gulmarg, Gulmarg surrounded by snowcapped mountains and lush green grass, the Shikaras, boathouses on the river Jhelum, and the lean, towering Chinar trees. The proud assertion of Kashmiri’s, “if there is a paradise on earth, it is Kashmir.” So much to tell but so little she did. Somehow, these memories were very blurry, It was as if they belonged to an earlier incarnation. She felt the pain that she could not recall the places of her birth. She so wanted Arjun to learn about these places because that would be a shortcut to Jyoti, but she was petrified to go there. Furthermore, she still had nightmares that would wake her up with chills, breaking a sweat. Arjun turned out to be quite an artist. He showed his auntie Arushi all the sketches he did since they last met. He showed real promise. He did several views of the Venkateswara Temple from different vantage points. The sketches were amazing and professional. After finishing the Pittsburgh Temple, he took on the task of doing the Venkateswara temple in Atlanta, Georgia. Abhay downloaded the photos from the Internet. These two were followed by several others from other cities. Yet another time, he drew a blueprint of an energy-efficient house that won him first prize in a countywide competition. The Arushi-Arjun bond was real and phenomenal. They both had improved their lot. Arushi got very interested and helped Arjun attain a semblance of normalcy or, better still, becoming normal. To that end, she found out about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a psychotherapy technique that was very useful in treating Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For starters, she found out the exact definition of autism: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The disorders are characterized in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communications, and repetitive behaviors, according to Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization. A patron of the temple, Dr. Niranjan Patel, had a son inflicted with autism. He had a behavioral specialist, adept at ABS, come to his house to work with his son. Arushi asked the doctor if she could come and observe the session. She also told him that she could not pay. After getting approval from the therapist, she applied to the County Transportation for rides to-and-fro from the doctor’s house. After receiving the nod from the County, she started to attend these classes. With this newfound knowledge, she treated Arjun to good results. Once there was a period when Arushi was not able to go to sleep due to her flashbacks. She asked Abhay if Arjun could stay with her during the holidays. Arjun spent three days and each night he rubbed Arushi’s back to put her to sleep. Thereafter he lied down next to her. Later in the night, she woke up and clasped him in her arms. This was a victory, a canary moment. Arjun's memory powers were stalwart and because of this, he was a good speller. With this talent, he began to prepare for the Scripps Spelling Bee Competition. Auntie Arushi’s enthusiasm propelled him to try. She assigned work from the latest version of the thesaurus as homework, which Arjun learned at home. The next day was an examination day. As a result of this preparation, Arjun breezed through the regional and zonal contests and today was standing at the finals of the national competition being held at the Capital Hilton in Washington DC, June 2 – 3, 1993. Here is an account of his finals.
Scripps Spelling Bee competition-finals The following segment is courtesy YouTube “The next word is “Negus,” spoke the moderator “What is the language of origin? inquired Arjun “Ethiopian to Amharic” “What is the definition?” “It is used as the title of the sovereign of Ethiopia,” said the moderator “Could you please use it in a sentence?” “The Negus ruled Ethiopia until the coup of 1974.” “Negus,” said Arjun For all the ambivalence Arjun felt about the word, he corralled it in. He had the expression on his face that said: "I'll take it." “When in doubt, sound it out.” A word of advice from the moderator “The next word is “iridocyclitis.” from the moderator Arjun after the usual questions spelled the word correctly. He would spell the next word, “tokonoma” correctly. “Arjun, that is correct. Since you are the only speller remaining in Round 15, if you spell the next word correctly, you will be declared the Scripps National Bee Competition Champion.” The moderator announced, “Enough applause.” “Here is your new word; “knaidel” “Please give me the language of origin?” “German-derived Yiddish.” “No way, no way,” came from the crowd. “Now be careful,” admonished the moderator “May I have the definition, please?” said Arjun “Knaidel is the small mass of Lebanese dough cooked by boiling or steaming as with soup, stew or fruit with which it is to be served. It's a dumpling. Mac hoped to find at least one more Knaidel in his soup bowl, but all he discovered was his missing denture.” The moderator provided the definition Laughing by the spectators and officials followed and of course, by Arjun too. “Are there any alternate positions?” inquired Arjun. To which the Moderator replied, “There is knaidel and just knaidel.” “knaidel,” was spelled by Arjun. “That is correct. You are this spelling bee’s champion.” Arjun stood there like a cartoon character, shook his head side to side, showed no emotion. When a huge volume of confetti rained down from the ceiling as a celebration, he still stayed riveted to the ground, making no motion. An official during the ceremony came out and garlanded him with the competition's gold medal. Later, he was center stage on the podium, flanked by two other runners-ups. Finally, he got down from the podium and ran straight into the arms of Auntie Arushi.
That day she had dressed in a white silk sari with a red border, much like the ones worn by Bengali women. She wore a pearl necklace which she had received on her previous birthday from Abhay. Complimenting the necklace were pearl studs which were a gift from Arjun, bought by Abhay but selected by Arjun. Arushi was beside herself. She flashbacked to the days from the previous six months during which they toiled over the hardest words possible. It seemed like Arjun had learned all the words from the Thesaurus. Abhay was overjoyed at his son's performance but equally, if not more, with the bonding of two fringe figures, It, seemed like the two pulled each other from a swamp. It was time to celebrate. Abhay found Arushi a statue of femininity, remarkably beautiful in a sari. This was his first glimpse of her draped in this six-feet of cloth.
*** Things drifted along for about two years. During this time Abhay bought a house in a prestigious suburb of Pittsburgh. Arjun invited auntie Arushi to go to a Steelers game. Hesitant at first, she did not disappoint the excited boy. So, on a sunny afternoon, the three packed off to storm the Three Rivers Stadium to watch the Steelers play their rival, the New England Patriots. There was an air of excitement in Abhay's Honda Civic as Arjun showed off the precious little, he knew about the game. He yet was euphoric. Buying tickets, they entered the stadium and found their seats on the 50-yard line. After getting comfortable, Abhay left the two and went to the concession stand to buy popcorn and drinks. While he was gone, Arushi was faced with an incident. In came a man who sat in the seat in front, which caused her to get agitated. The man was about 6 feet tall. She saw his face and was reminded of Rashid. She recoiled involuntarily and started to moan and then started crying. Listening to a sound behind him the man turned around to see who caused the noise. He was face-to-face with Arushi. Arushi's dam broke, she started to shake and yelled, “Ravanna, please don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, it’s hurting.” The man was dumbfounded, and Arjun went into shock and froze. By then Abhay was back and took in the scene. He tried to calm Arushi to no avail. The situation went from bad to worse, so Abhay decided that they should leave. He marched both-of them out of the stands, out of the stadium, and into the parking lot, heading home. The ride home was very chaotic. Arushi, in a chorus, pleaded with Ravana to be gentle and not hurt her, while Arjun sat mum throughout the ride. When he turned over Arushi to her roommate, she became calm. Abhay started to tell Kusum, her roommate, about what happened when Arushi interrupted him and said that she was okay. At home, Abhay calmed Arjun. He reminded him of all the good times he had with auntie Arushi. He also brought out his sketches of the temple. He was able to divert his attention and very soon they were watching the same game on television. The next day, when the two confronted Arushi, Abhay was apologetic. He put a palm on her shoulder to say he was sorry to have taken her out in an unknown kind of crowd. The minute he touched her, he was surprised by the response he got from her. She forcefully, repelled his hand and recoiled from him and said, "don't touch me." Abhay was taken aback, but Arjun saved the day. From his bag, he pulled out some new sketches he had done of the Akshardham Temple in New Delhi. The renderings were so lifelike that they caught Arushi’s attention. After that, the two sat down at their regular table and Abhay went to the Puja Room to help Priestess Anandi. Arushi now became an enigma for Abhay. What caused this intense rebellion when faced by a certain kind of man? Her reaction to, “Ravana don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me, it’s hurting,” cried out loudly, that she had gone through a terrifying ordeal related to men. That must have been the reason for her pushing him back. There was only one answer to his queries. She had experienced rape and a very violent one at that. Having come to this conclusion, he decided to help her. He now knew that he could not be the point man, but how about Arjun? Arjun seemed like the answer. He would have to coach his kid, but how? He did not have an answer. Arjun himself had issues, so he had to be careful. He still, when in solitude, was overwhelmed by Rima’s memory. He missed her horribly. If she were still around, life would be fabulous. They would have it all. His job at a prestigious Academy and the Board of Education’s help for Arjun. When Rima was alive, they had planned for a second child. Their desires were no more, Rima was no more. Very soon, the snow made its arrival, a very welcome experience. He loved the flakes as they brushed against his face. It invigorated him, just like when mist during a rain-hit his face under an umbrella, during the monsoon season. Abhay had cooled off his contact with Arushi, but Arjun got closer. Then one Sunday, a few days before Christmas, Arjun brought some stellar news to Abhay about Arushi’s malady. Arjun recounted what happened that day. He said that Auntie’s back was facing him when he entered. He thought he would surprise her. So, he quietly tiptoed and when he got near, he could hear auntie sobbing quietly. When he came in front of her, she was startled, but that seemed to be okay. He said that she gathered him in her arms and wept. After a few minutes, still crying, but through her tears, she asked, “Why did God take away my Jyoti? Will you return my Jyoti? Will you become my Jyoti? “Of course, Auntie. When I think of my mom, I think of you.” Arjun told his dad that upon listening to his answer, she pressed him ever closer to her breast and started to cry loudly. I could hear her heart and could tell that they were tears of happiness. That was a canary moment. She found someone, she could call her own. After she regained her composure, she told me things about her past life. Her father was a very religious man, more so than her mom. He got up early at four AM, took a shower with cold water and then sat down and read the Ramayana for two hours. He must have read the Holy Book several times. Her mother was a good cook. They both adored her and Jyoti, her ten- year old brother. When I asked where were they now and why aren't they with you, she was silent for a long moment and then said “The Muslim Mullahs burned them alive. I hate Muslims. There are some very bad men in this world. Not everyone is as good as your dad.” She then gathered Arjun in her arms, in a tight hold, and kept sobbing. After a while, she wiped her tears and said, “Arjun, don’t you ever leave me.” “Never Auntie, never. If you describe Jyoti bhaiyya, brother, I will sketch him.” Arushi in a Maxi Dress with her silk flower wreath
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Arushi ventured into uncharted territory when she decided to dress in a printed, smocked maxi. In colors of peach, this rayon crepon number made her come alive in a way a sari couldn’t. It was a refreshing change. This was a first as was her visit to Abhay’s new house. When Abhay picked her up early from the temple, all three were supercharged. A brisk November morning saw an attraction that blossomed between Arushi and Abhay. Abhay had developed a liking for her, right from the very first meeting at the temple’s stockroom. At present, he gave her space. When Arushi came out from the place of worship she held a brown paper bag. Upon being asked what was in the bag, she declined to comment. Curiosity aroused, as soon as they reached his house, Arjun became insistent. He wanted to know what was in the bag. What she took out was simply awe-inspiring. Arushi's craft-making ability was on full display. With the use of silk flowers, she had handmade a rather large, exquisite door wreath. This was a house warming gift from her. Little did the two know that she had labored hard, working well into many nights. Abhay was bowled over and Arjun was beside himself with excitement. This was not all. She had embroidered, with peach-colored silk thread on a piece of burlap in lazy daisy embroidery, the serenity prayer. The first thing they did was hang the wreath on the door, together with the prayer. She also had brought a wooden board that said “Welcome.” Standing at the kitchen island, Abhay chopped onions, ginger, and cloves of garlic. He was to be Arushi’s helper in her cooking endeavors. Arjun challenged himself by taking on a monumental job. He sketched the kitchen, together with the people in it, himself, Arushi Auntie and his Dad. Everyone went about working on their project with diligence, and a can-do attitude. Arushi poured all her love into her curries; both meat and vegetable. She wanted her dishes to be standouts that day. “Abhay, do you know how to devein shrimp?” Arushi asked. At the grocery store with Abhay and Arjun, she had purposely bought shrimp that had not been deveined. They were much cheaper, and she wanted to save Abhay some money. Abhay replied, “Yes.” “Could you work on those next?” asked Arushi “Okay, it will take a little time as I am not that fast,” replied Abhay “Take your time as I am working on pea paneer. Next, I will work on the bitter gourd,” said Arushi By now Arjun was done with the complete layout of the kitchen. Next, he began the hard part, imparting character to the sketch by filling in details. He knew it would take time, maybe the whole day. He didn’t mind, he just wanted to create a montage that did justice to the aura in the room. Abhay deveined the shrimp. Next, he chopped okra, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, and created a peanut paste in the blender for eggplant. Before starting to cook, Arushi arranged the roses that Abhay had bought for her. Later she took the vase home, as per Abhay’s instructions. For the first time, since the brutal incident, she hummed under her breath, Hindi songs of Lataji, Mukesh and Chitra Singh. The would-be lover's trilogy, which included Arjun, was in plain sight. It was a no brainer to see that Arushi enjoyed light banter with Abhay, “Abhay, I heard from the grapevine that you were an ace cricketer while in India. Is that true?” Well, I don’t know about being an ace, but I was offered a spot as a spin bowler for India’s Cricket Test match with the West Indies to be played in Madras,” answered Abhay. “If that isn't being an ace, then what is?” asked Arushi “So be it, if you say so,” replied Abhay Arushi took small steps towards feeling normal. She knew though, that when night fell and she was alone, she would be petrified. *** Though things were looking up, all three were fighting their demons. Hidden deep inside Arushi’s cylindrical wall was a sense of it being unscalable by any other and that she was hemmed in by the ghastly event with Rashid. She dared not think about it. She felt immense hatred towards the entire moment, the letch Rashid who had performed numerous satanic and sacrilegious acts on her body. She felt shame about her own body, which she felt needed cleansing, if cleansing was possible, from the defilement she had suffered at Rashid’s and guilt that she even came out of the house. For all these reasons, she did not recount it to anyone, and most certainly not to Arjun, who was the only person to have breached her armor. Arjun benefitted tremendously from Arushi’s treating him with ABS. He no longer required an aide, he performed almost at Grade Level, he made friends and was able to learn in a group setting. Yet all this did not come without cost. Arjun had to diligently fight his battles every day to prevent relapse. Abhay had a void that only a woman could fill. He had thought of Arushi but knew that she would have to fight with her demons and win. Only then could she embrace a new relationship.
*** Arushi and head priestess, Anandiji, arrived punctually at 4 PM. Anandiji was to perform Sraddha, a ritual performed for one’s ancestors, especially deceased parents, for Abhay’s parents and ancestors. Upon arrival, Arushi was surprised to see framed sketches of Ma and Pitaji propped against the copper temple. Abhay had told her that this “Sraddha” was for his ancestors. Arushi had blocked the memories of her loved ones until Arjun asked her if he could do sketches of her parents. For quite a long time, she resisted, until one day Arjun's persistence paid off. Sitting at the table in the stock room, she helped Arjun in sketching her Mom and Dad. Arjun took the sketch home, saying he was going to do embellishments on the clothes. Once at home, he added the embellishments and did duplicates giving Auntie Arushi a copy and keeping one for himself. Very soon friends started to arrive. Arushi was touched. She took Arjun aside and asked him whose Sraddha was being performed. Arjun told her that it was for her parents. She felt gratitude towards Abhay. Moreover, a wave of remembrance for ma and pitaji surged through her body. She had begun to think about her past. Acts and events like these were helping her open-up. Yet, the only persons that would help her completely.were either Abhay or Priestess Anandi. She was not ready to talk to either. The time came to begin the Shradha puja. Priestess Anandi knew her job well. She laid down all the arrangements for the fire ritual. What happened next caught Arushi by extreme surprise. Head Priestess Anandi asked her to sit on the seat reserved for the Karta, the person who performs the Sraddha. She had not expected that the Shraddha was for her parents, but now to sit at the helm of the affairs overwhelmed her. She did what was asked and went through the motions. Priestess Anandi chanted all the Shlokas, hymns, and narrated the story of Garuda Purana, the dialog between Lord Vishnu and Garuda (a bird), thus completing the puja. She had enacted the Sarvpitru Shradha, homage to one's parents and ancestors, meant for the situation when you don’t know the name of the principals whose shraddha was being performed. She had chosen the tithi, date, and the nakshatra, star, as close as she could. There were eleven Brahmins who were fed with sumptuous food and the ceremony was completed by giving the Brahmins Dakshina, fees. Finally, Priestess Anandi enshrined a puja room, room for worship, in compliance with Vastu Shastra, Feng Shui in Indian architecture. This act attracted and enhanced positivity and harmony to the house. At the end of the ritual, Arushi caught Abhay at a secluded spot, and in a heavy voice, that bordered on tears, thanked him. Abhay dried her tears. She allowed that touch, but no more. She gently pushed him away. This happened about a week before they were to go to the Amarnath Caves in Kashmir.
*** One morning, on a trip to the temple, Arjun posed a question to auntie Arushi. He said his dad wanted to go on a trek to the holy shrine of Amarnath in Kashmir. He asked her if she would like to join them. It would be a three-week tour of India. Arushi was a bit startled as she had blocked images of Kashmir. They were too painful. She said, “Let me think about it. Tell your dad I will let him know soon.” After Arushi’s meltdown with Arjun, Abhay approached Head Priestess Anandi and told her about the episode. He informed her that Arushi was a rape victim and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He asked for help from the temporal head. Abhay had done a lot of reading on PTSD. He knew that there were three avenues for recovery, through pharmacotherapies, psychological and sociological treatment. He was skeptical if Arushi would be ready to take medicine or to even acknowledge rape. Further who would prescribe that medicine. This method seemed like a dead end. Remaining were psychological and sociological methods. One technique was hyperarousal and re-experiencing feelings associated with the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares. This would cause Arushi to relive her trauma. But the question was how to bell the cat. The obvious answer was to take her to the abominable house in Srinagar. That reexperiencing was essential. He approached Priestess Anandi who said, “Abhay, let me talk to her. Just like in Christianity, a man or woman can go through confession, I think Arushi will open up to her priestess. That settled that. Priestess Anandi, one morning after puja, detained Arushi and said, “Arushi, I have been noticing since you came here that you don’t talk much and are generally quiet. Is anything the matter? You can tell me.” “No Anandiji, I am okay. “No, Arushi, you are not. Abhay told me about the episode you had with Arjun. Who is Ravana? And why is he hurting you?” Arushi was taken aback. She felt that she was exposed, a warning that her days of solitude were over. She was reluctant to go there. She was afraid of the pain that remembrance would cause her. She wanted to nix the conversation right then and there. “Oh, that was nothing. I was just thinking about my family.” “No Arushi, you are not telling the truth. Something happened to you. To rid yourself of these demons, you need to talk. Also, Kusum told me that while taking showers, you have to have hot water. This one day when the shower head had no warm water, you did not take a shower. Why can’t you tolerate cold water?” “Anandiji, what will you do with the truth? You can’t live or feel it.” “I can try to understand your feelings if you tell me truthfully and in detail. Sharing burdens reduce pain.” Arushi wanted to share for some time. Her flashbacks boiled over. So, in simple terms, she told Anandiji about Rashid and how he had raped her for three months, how she felt dirty and ashamed, and that nothing could cleanse her.
“What happened to you is not your fault, not by a long shot. You are a victim and you need support. Lately, I notice you have gotten close to Arjun but aloof from Abhay. With Abhay, you can come together and transfer your guilt to him. He is a wonderful human being.” She told her how he had sacrificed his career as a cricketer and opted for a better life for his child. He could have had international fame as India's spin bowler, but he did not want to dim his son’s light. He came to America. “I like Abhay, but what can I do about these dreams? I can’t remove them from my mind.”
“That's just the point. Tell him all, every detail. I know he will forgive you for everything. He will take the stance that there is nothing to forgive. You are a victim. I know all three of you are going to Kashmir. Go to your house and the house where you were held captive. With Abhay by your side, you will regain your strength and your self-confidence. Tell him everything, every gory detail.” After this conversation, going to Srinagar felt less onerous. She decided to brave it out. Two years of interaction with the Mathur family had healed many wounds. Arushi was able to lead an almost normal life. She began to enjoy life, unlike before when it was a drag. But still, she could not bury what had happened on the fateful night of November 19, 1990. It was so deeply locked in a dangerous part of her psyche, she could not shake them loose. Other than that, she had started to see life as half full. However, her only dilemma was that while she still had nightmares of Rashid; Ma, Pa, and Jyoti had become distant memories, but he was still there. It was an imperfect life, but at least it was one. Abhay had consulted with a psychiatrist and his advice was that Arushi needed to visit the places where these tortures took place. She needed a gentle loving, firm, hand that could steady her when violent reactions occurred, when faced with traumatic spots and events. These trigger points were essential during the path to recovery. She had to make peace with her past. Once she was over this hurdle, then Abhay was to support her and confess his love. Once that happened, there could be one happy family of three. Abhay knew that during this holy trip, they were bound to hit Srinagar. That’s when he would act. He would take Arushi to the physical locale that tormented her. A few days went by with no answer. Abhay took matters into his hand. He told her that in addition to the Sraddha which she attended, he wanted to take a pilgrimage, on his parent’s behalf, to the shrine located in the caves of Amarnath in Kashmir. He could go alone with Arjun, but he could not control the boy as Arushi could. This logic did make sense, so she agreed. She had begun to trust these two and Abhay once having put his hands on her shoulder and being rebuffed, had not tried that move again. *** Abhay called Jaya Travels to book their trip to India Their first destination was New Delhi for a couple of days, and then onwards to Jammu by air, and from there their trek to Amarnath. So, the Amarnath Yatra, trip began. The brochure that the travel agent had given them, had the following map of the two routes. Amarnath Yatra The three sat down on the dining room table and thrashed out their itinerary. There were three routes. They were;
Jammu-Pahalgam-Holy Cave (Traditional Route)
Jammu-Baltal-Holy Cave (shorter, but a difficult trek, little amenities)
Jammu-Pahalgam-Holy Cave-by helicopter
-Pahalgam-Panchtarni by Helicopter -Onwards by foot, pony or palanquin, Pony not recommended as the guides are careless. The distance to Cave is four miles.
The trip from Jammu onwards to the next destination was by transport or private taxi. They opted for Route 3, mainly because of the helicopter ride and it was a shorter distance on foot. Past Panchtarni, the trek to the Holy caves of Amarnath was four miles. The Meadowlands of Panchtarni were at a height of 12,000 feet. This last camp before the caves had cold winds which caused the skin to crack. Hence it was recommended that travelers carry cold cream /Vaseline to protect their skin. Some travelers were also affected by a deficiency of oxygen, and further, some more may feel nauseated leading to a feeling of vomiting. Dry fruits like Allu Bukhara, sour and sweet eatables like lemon, were useful to control these symptoms. The route to Mahagunas is full of rivulets, waterfalls, and springs, which calls the skin to crack Panchtarni is a very beautiful place at the foot of the Bhairav Mountains. Five rivers flow here. It is said that the five rivers originated from Lord Shiva’s Jatayu, Hairs The Holy Cave of Shri Amarnath is only four miles from Panchtarni. As there is no place to stay there, the pilgrims started in the early hours of the morning after their stay at Panchtarni. Some pilgrims took a bath at Amravati near the holy cave to become pious before going for Darshan, viewing. Near the cave is a white soil known as Bhasm. It is the most beloved soil of Shivji, an incarnation of a God. There are two smaller Shivlings, one of “Mata Parvati and the other of Shree Ganesh”. Trekkers had to return to the base camp of Panchtarni the same day. From here on, they retrace their path to Jammu or Srinagar.
*** On an Indian Airlines plane, they began their journey. The distance from New Delhi to Jammu on this thirty-one-seater Fokker airplane took forty-five minutes. Abhay, Arushi and Arjun were on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine located in the Amarnath Caves in Kashmir On reaching Pahalgam, they realized why Kashmir, is considered to be the paradise of this world. This small town situated on the banks of the Lidder River is surrounded by high mountains. They checked into a hotel, in two separate bedrooms, one for Abhay and the other for Arushi and Arjun. They spent the day at this scenic location and had a picnic next to a rivulet that ran over stone pebbles. The flight the next day on the helicopter was a sight to see. They started by flying over Pahalgam, Aru Valley and then glided through the glacier of Sheshnag and finally landed at Panchtarni. They hovered over Sheshnag, which derives its name from its Seven Peaks, resembling the heads of the mythical snake. The journey through Sheshnag followed steep inclines on the right bank of a cascading stream and wild scenery untouched by civilization. Further on, there were the blue waters of Sheshnag lake and the glaciers beyond it.
They, more or less rested that day in Panchtarni. The reason was that the next day’s foot trek to the caves was four miles each way. Both Arushi and Arjun decided to walk it. Abhay had suggested that they take the palanquin, but the two wanted to be brave. That settled, Arushi packed a picnic basket with the help of the chai shop, a local restaurant. They then began their trek. They had made, while still in the US, a visit to Dick’s Sporting Goods Store where they outfitted themselves with proper apparel, footwear, water bottle, backpacks, and high-energy snacks. Not being accustomed to trekking, they did not know how to pace themselves. There was a sizable crowd and they melded in it. They started with gusto but soon found out that they needed to conserve energy. Abhay led the way with the two following close behind. They navigated the first two and a half miles when the two began to feel a little tired. They started to take breaks, which delayed them. Once, Arushi stumbled on a rock, and it was lucky that Abhay was just next to her. He propped her up and the next thing she knew she was in Abhay’s strong arms. An electric shock swept through both of them. This was the first time when the two had such a delicious embrace. It was a canary moment, a eureka moment. The remaining one and a half miles were like magic. She experienced a feeling of oneness and he could not forget her fragrance, both figuratively, and in reality. Surprisingly, Arjun stood his ground. Also, surprising was Arushi’s spirits after the experience. She enjoyed the embrace, relishing it. The cave itself is humongous. It has a Shivling, lingam of the God Shiva, in frozen snow and is called Baba Barfani, God in ice. The entrance has a sign mounted atop a gate that says, Welcome to the Holy Cave. Since it’s a Shiva shrine, the members of the crowd chant Jai Bhole, Bum bum Bhole, On Namah Shivsay, different names for Lord Shiva. Some priests perform puja, worship of God, throughout the day. They worshipped the Shiva deity and offered sweets which they had bought at the Sweet Meat Shop. For the return journey, they hired a palanquin for Arjun and Arushi and returned to Panchtarni. The following day, they returned to Pahalgam on the helicopter and finally to Srinagar.
*** It was the wee hours of the morning. The houseboat caretaker arrived and bustled around in the kitchen. Lazily, the three awoke and came down to the living room. Today, they were to go to Arushi’s old house in Srinagar. Though Arushi had some trepidation, she did not feel insecure. She had not one, but two men escorting her. She felt empowered, Abhay, her protector, was with her. The previous day's contact was like the smell of roses in full bloom. It seemed like this feeling was safe and abiding. Arushi relished every moment. Their journey by taxi took about forty-five minutes. Arushi would not have recognized the structure as it was redone after the fire, but the flowers were telltale. The white gardenias, the red and white roses, and the marigolds were laid out exactly as she remembered. Abhay suggested that they knock on the door and visit with the new inhabitants of the house. At first hesitant, with Arjun chiming in, they went to the door and rang the bell. After the usual wait, a lady answered the door. “My name is Arushi" and pointing towards the two, she said, "this is Abhay and Arjun." "I used to live at this location in November of 1990. We are on a pilgrimage and a holiday trip of Kashmir." Before she could go further, the lady beckoned them to come in. Very soon, they were seated on the sofa and the whole household was present. The new owners were Abdul Rehman and Noorjehan who had two children named Farooque and Husna. Abdul Rehman was a college professor. They spent about an hour chitchatting, the Rehman’s being apologetic and sympathetic towards Arushi. After leaving the house, Arushi was glad that they went in. Not all Muslims are bad. She had just one more demon to conquer. Navigating the lanes, which to her surprise she still remembered, she stood in front of the House of Horrors. The house of infamy, where her chastity was broken, her body. pillaged, and where she had suffered multiple injuries to her psyche. There was a provision store in the vicinity. She went there and bought a box of matches. She then came back to the house and pulled out from her pocketbook what seemed like a bra. She went to the walls of the building where there was an alcove. She crumpled the bra and placed it in the alcove. She then lit a match and set the bra on fire. Soon it was ablaze and reduced to ashes. Before going down with Major Rawat three years ago, she had extricated this bra from a hiding place. She had kept it as protection/symbolic protection from men in the future. That her breasts would have a barrier from the raunchiness of an attacker. Spirits uplifted, she buried the hatchet. She had forgiven Rashid, and in that forgiveness, she felt liberated. Now she was ready to strike up a relationship with Abhay. Soon she was standing in front of him, and in the next moment, she embraced him with no reservations. Her heart raced like it gunned for the pole position at Indianapolis, a canary was singing. She pulled Arjun in and the threesome was now singing a canary’s song. There were three tweets that day, instead of one, one for Arushi and one each for Arjun and Abhay and finally, one chorus for all three of them. An effigy had fallen. It was of Ravana and she was not trapped, instead, she watched from afar. Arushi had tamed her insecurities and in so doing, in paradise, which is Kashmir, they had created a paradise of their own. That night, after Arjun had gone to bed, the two decided to sit out in the open in the shikara attached to the houseboat, on the waters of Dal Lake. The turbulence that inflicted Arushi became a thing of the past. She felt so moored to Abhay that she asked him if she could lie down on his lap. Abhay said yes. Soon she looked in his eyes and told all, about every atrocity committed to her body and why she could not tolerate even the slightest of cold water. She told how Rashid had shaken her, pulled back her head till it hurt badly, the slaps and the dousing of cold water to her naked body. She cried hysterically as she narrated. It all came out in a torrential downpour depicting her gruesome horror. Abhay drew closer felt all her wounds. He gently stroked her hair and then bent down. When Arushi nudged him, he kissed her lips. She took one of his hands and placed it on her breast. By now Abhay had garlanded her in a close embrace, pressed her body to him. Her sobbing had subsided and out came a toothy smile. Arushi had obtained her Nirvana. This was a moment of unison, a sublime moment, a canary moment. The two were locked never to be separated. They made love under the eyes of the watchful full moon whose silvery sparkle blessed them. Arushi Trikha’s burden evaporated into Arushi Mathur’s splendor. Her demons conquered, a family emerged.