After shutting the door, Shiv Ranjan Chouhan, alias ‘Shadow’, walked out of the infirmary and took his place right outside. He let go of the breath he didn’t know he was holding. The beautiful, inquisitive doe eyes belonging to the only woman who had stolen his heart had hunted his dreams. And he had to be face to face with her… He didn’t know it would be so difficult for him, the mighty Shadow known for his self-control.
He didn’t know he had a heart until he was fourteen and till little Padma had innocently made her foray into its chambers. He still remembered the day in the mango grove as clear as yesterday.
Born to an absentee father, he had craved his father’s attention growing up. His father Abir Kumar Chauhan had migrated to Koini and settled on a piece of land bordering Koini and the province ruled by King WamanRao Raje. He had barely been a baby then. His father had run away from Lucknow to escape the Zamindar system he belonged to. Abir Chauhan considered himself a warrior and wanted to serve the royals. He was well versed with the use of firearms and a top-notch fighter. He was trained briefly along with WamanRao Raje and had since sworn loyalty to the would-be King.
Once he settled in Koini, Abir Chauhan soon got a call and joined the security detail of the palace. He prevented a major tragedy involving the little princess a few years later. He further caught the eye of the King, who trusted him more than life itself and was soon promoted to serve in the security detail of the King’s unit. The following year he was transferred to serve the Queen and was quickly her driver cum personal bodyguard.
While this promotion brought in a lot of fame and money to the Chauhan, Shiv Ranjan missed his father. The man was rarely home and held his money with a tight fist.
His father’s memories were of a bearded man who played with him whenever he came home in his childhood.
Shiv often heard his parents fight whenever his father visited them. Initially, he couldn’t figure out the reason for the fights, but later on, he realized it was all about money and a little more….
“Why don’t you give me more money…?” His mother would ask.
“Rati, I am saving it all for our Shiv and his future…” his father would argue.
“Then, what about my life? Don’t I have any needs? Because of your job with the royals, we live in this secluded location. We can’t go to the province as you don’t want anyone to know about us…”
“…that will put you and Shiv in danger, and I have to do my work as a bodyguard diligently without worrying about you two. It’s a dangerous world out there, Rati.” His father explained.
“Why don’t I move back to Ghaziabad? With my parents? At least I won’t have to be lonely.”
“Rati, you knew this is what I wanted even before we eloped. I had warned you about this life… My position in the Royal household is of utmost importance. I am constantly on the move. Only the Queen knows about your existence. If anyone else gets wind of you two… your relationship with me, they may use it as leverage against me, which may cost the Royal family their lives. I can’t take the risk, nor can I put you both in danger…”
“Then let loose your purse strings. I want to live a life of luxury. I want to dress well, dress up Shiv, send him to the best school…”
“I am saving money for Shiv… But, given my line of work, it won’t be long before I have to retire, if not lose my life in the line of duty. What will happen to Shiv then? So, I am saving up, so he receives a good education and a good and comfortable life.”
His mother would only sulk till his father left again,
His father taught him martial arts and fighting techniques, but the best gift he got from his father was the technique to blend well in his surroundings without anyone knowing about his existence. His father taught him the importance of staying low and observing every detail in his surrounding.
You will be consumed by your light and glow
Provided you self-search and nurture your shadow…
Little Shiv had always wanted to grow up and join the Army, a dream that his mother hated but his father encouraged.
“You have something unique about you, Shiv; you are born to achieve greater heights. You are Lord Mahadev’s blessing to us all.” So his father would always say.
His mother loved him in her way. She didn’t talk much, just went about the daily chores at home while he attended the local Gram Panchayat school. The school was in name only and attended by only those who couldn’t afford to school. She didn’t cook much, but whatever she did, he would wait for her to pamper him and coax him to eat. He loved Diwali for the brightness and because his mother would often dress well and dress him up in his favorite blue Kurta; his papa had got him once.
He remembered a particular Diwali where she had got him sparklers, which was the first and the last Diwali he had celebrated with his mother. For years after that, he had longed to celebrate the festival but didn’t bother to ask his parents about it. Instead, he joined his school friends in lighting oil lamps and an occasional firework donated by some or the other political bigwig…
The mid-day meal scheme offered by the government was a significant attraction to those who attended here. Though his mother prepared something every day, Shiv loved to eat in school and the company of his friends. Moreover, most children were sons of local laborers or farmers, primarily daily wagers. So no one bothered about why such a well-built kid attended a school with a building with a roof that leaked torrentially along with the rain every monsoon.
His dark skin tone and simple clothes didn’t make him stand apart eventually, and he was glad because his father would approve of it.
One day, when he was around twelve, he came home early from school in the afternoon since he was down with a fever, a rare occurrence. The entrance to his house was open, and he was surprised. His mother usually had her nap in the afternoon. His house wasn’t very big or attractive as per his father’s wishes, so it didn’t call for attention. It was on a tiny hill away from the nearest village, and the land was barren.
His father had somehow managed to get them a constant water supply through his contacts and influence in the palace via the government scheme. They now had an initially small mango grove, but Shiv too had taken over the care of the place, and the grove had grown. He often got his school friends who weren’t working in the fields, and they worked on the grove. Some trees had yielded fruit recently, and he had distributed most of the fruit to his friends.
That afternoon he walked into a silent home. Where was his mother? He was burning with fever, and his head pounded. The only place that gave him solace was the mango grove. He walked in there, hoping to lie in the shade when he heard some chuckles and giggles.
Keeping up with his training in stealth, he walked without a sound to a clearing in the middle of the grove and was shocked to the core. His mother lay on a thatched mat with another man. Her saree was strewn at the side while she held the man’s face, constantly kissing him. With his paunch hanging out of his briefs, the man hugged her too, digging his head into her shoulder.
Shiv lost focus given his health, and at the sound of the twig cracking, the couple moved apart. His mother was wide-eyed, and she rushed to cover herself with the discarded saree. The man sat up too and pulled his clothes together.
His mother rushed to him and held his shoulders.
“What are you doing here, Shiv?” She asked, still panting.
Shiv was a child, but he knew whatever was happening wasn’t right. So he didn’t say a word.
The man stood up and rubbed his huge belly. As he dressed, his handlebar mustache struck Shiv along with the red tilak on his sweaty forehead. Who was this man? He looked familiar.
“Shiv…” his mother spoke. “… touch Saheb’s feet and take his blessings.” She indicated to the large man still adjusting her saree she had worn hurridly.
Shiv stood still glaring at the man, anger rising in his little body.
“Rati, your son is very stubborn. It would help if you taught him some manners.” He dusted his clothes and walked out of the grove.
His mother dragged him out of the grove to their house and pushed him to the bed. Then, placing her hands on her hips, she stared at him, fire blazing in her eyes.
“Do you know who that man was?” She asked, clenching her teeth.
“No maa… But he wasn’t papa.” Shiv back answered for the first time. The slap across his face caused him to fall back on the bed with a thud.
“How dare you say that, Shiv? You know nothing about all this. I have given up so much for you and your father; you will never understand. You are just like your father. If you ever say a word about this to your father, I shall leave you forever.” His mother threatened him.
That was Shiv’s greatest fear. While all his friends feared drought, hunger, and poverty, he feared loneliness. He couldn’t lose his mother… So he would keep his silence. He went to bed hungry that night, and miraculously, his fever had broken.
He was a changed boy from that day on and decided not to rely on his mother anymore.
Shiv often returned home to find the same man leaving the house. At times the man patted his head or pretended Shiv didn’t exist. However, his mother wore beautiful sarees and got new clothes. Something about that man, however, didn’t feel right.
Two years passed, and Shiv somewhat knew what happened in the grove that day and now blatantly in his house. However, he didn’t hold it against his mother since she was happy, which meant she wouldn’t need him around or keep tabs on him, not that she did anyway. So he was glad to be left alone.
It was a summer when he had just turned fourteen, and the school ground was abuzz with something they all said election rally. He was one of the volunteers. He had lost weight and had become skinny and lean. He stayed away from home as much as possible, helping around the fields with his friends. The hard labor made him strong, and he kept up with his martial arts practice from whatever his father had taught him.
Just a year more, and he could escape this place. His father had arranged everything for him. At times he wondered if his father knew about his mother’s indiscretions. But his father too rarely came home, Shiv counted three times in the last two years.
Instead, his father called him occasionally at school or whenever he volunteered at the post office.
That evening the dignitaries sat on the dais, and the Sarpanch announced.
“We welcome the young and dynamic leader of the Kalyankar party, the son of this soil, and future MLA, Shri Rajendrabhau Majumdar. Everyone, please give him a round of applause…”
Shiv pried away from his eyes from the swelling crowd and looked upon the dais. His heart skipped a beat. It was the man from the numerous posters around the village. The man being honored was the one who frequented his home… the one who had an affair with his mother.