I suppose I did everything a priest would do and a husband wouldn’t. I asked them to put their clothes on. Neither of them thought I was worth paying any attention to. He began laughing and after her initial tears she too joined in. His tattoo depicting the ten heads of Ravana was clearly visible. The feeling to hurt him was overwhelming but was accompanied by an acceptance of my own inability to do so.
“You could at least shout or say something”. He couldn’t stop laughing.
“How long has this been going on?” I asked.
“You could ask any of the villagers. I am sure many of them could give you the exact date” she replied mocking me. With neither of them bothering to change into clothes, I left. By then, I stopped feeling any sort of agitation, but was aware of a cold emotion I had never felt before.
I probably should have gone to the temple right then. The marble floor and the mango trees nearby offer as good a place for contemplation as any. But I was still a god-fearing man and wouldn’t for the life of me think of my wife and him in the temple. I went to Chander’s house. He was probably my only acquaintance who never came to the temple. Known both for his goiter and drinking, I suppose he was one of the characters any small town gossips about. I was one of the few supporters he had in town. My father during his time as the priest of the temple severely opposed anything Chander said. Chander, I used to remember was an energetic village youth with a socialistic vision for the development of the village. But my father, a prominent member of the village council was against every one of his ideas. Some of them were quite good. I asked my father about his dislike for Chander and he nonchalantly replied that a person should stay within the boundaries of his social status. By this he meant that Chander belonging to the lower classes should not involve himself in the everyday affairs of the village. I think father hated his confidence more than anything else. Chander went to the army and returned a drunk.
When I took over as the priest after my father’s death, I tried to mend fences with Chander. Although, not entirely successful I tried often. It felt awkward going to him but I needed someone to talk to who wouldn’t gossip and who wouldn’t give the same advice which everyone else did and what I thoroughly expected. I knocked on his door and he opened it after some delay. He had just woken up from his sleep and looked to be recuperating from a bout of drunkenness. I followed him into his hut as he was not given to ceremonial welcomes.
“Did you know that my wife is having an adulterous relationship with the trucker Ranbir?” I asked coming directly to the point.
“There is no need to say an adulterous relationship. Why can’t you just say plainly that she is sleeping with him”.
He knew I wouldn’t argue with him. But it gave him some pleasure to needle me like this. He told me he knew every intimate detail of their relationship and so did all the revelers of the local bar. Ranbir would shout to anyone in hearing range of how the priest was incapable of controlling his wife.
“You are a bigger fool than your father. He was just a stubborn idiot who at least could manage his own affairs. He was good at what he did although his work did no good to anyone . He ruled your life the way he wanted it to be. You remember I did not come to your wedding even though you had done me the honour of personally inviting me. That was because I knew about her. That wife of yours is a whore and always was one. But couldn’t you see what was happening in your own house? I think she may have been with a dozen men in her life. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that is a gross understatement. But since they happened to be one of the few upper class families in the village your father arranged your marriage with her. Well, I will tell you one thing. She is too liberal to believe in any class barrier. She has probably slept with every willing man in town without a care about his social status. And I think she gets a kick out of the fact that she is your wife and is doing so. And all this because you don’t have any guts. Nothing like this would have happened if your father was alive. That guy Ranbir wouldn’t have come near your house if your father was still alive.”
“What should I do now” I asked him in the midst of his oration.
“If you have any decency left in you, you would leave her. I don’t think he will have anything to do with her afterwards and she has no place to go. She thinks you are going to forgive and forget this incident. She may even be under the impression that she has pulled it off without a need for any explanation or apology.”
“Well, all I want to do is leave this mess alone. I don’t want to get involved in this kind of thing.”
“You are lying. You want to harm both of them. And don’t talk of non-involvement because you are right in the middle of the thing.” He reminded me bluntly.
I did not reply. We did not talk for the next few moments and then he asked me to leave and come back in a day. He told me he would think of something. I went back to my house and did not find my wife there. It didn’t take a lot of guessing as to where she was. I thought about my meeting with Chander. Obviously, he still had a grudge against my late father and all the anger bottled up needed a release. As I was the descendant he found someone he could take it out on.
I went to his house again. This time, the hut smelt of turpentine. He had just cleaned his gun. He told me to come at 11 in the night to his house. After that we were supposed to go to Ranbir’s house.
I knew what was going to happen. But I still could not understand how Chander had penetrated the paranoia I had. I don’t think I ever gave the impression of a man who would take matters into his own hands. He guessed or knew what I wanted to do although my own wife would never have contemplated it. He was standing outside his hut when I went over. He started walking briskly the moment he saw me and I followed him. I didn’t feel in any way tense. He slowed down near the river and told me there was a truck nearby which was going to be used by him to take the bodies 30 miles away to be buried. He informed me that the truck belonged to Ranbir and he had borrowed it for 250 rupees for the night. He told me to pay him 500 later. He added that a rumour could be spread around saying that both of them had eloped. The scheme had few flaws, he warned me but would succeed. I hardly listened to what he said. I asked him his reasons for doing this. He told me that the feelings which I would not be able to shake off for the rest of my life were a fair compensation for all the troubles my father gave him. He confessed he liked me but could never bring around himself to accept me as a friend. Ranbir could become his friend but not me. He said what I had done for him in the past was nothing compared to the pain my father gave him. He told me once my father called him a sweeper during a village meeting. But he advised me that to command respect I may have to be more like my father whether I liked it or not.
“What did your wife do when you found her with Ranbir?” he asked suddenly.
“She started crying and then laughed along with him. I don’t understand it. Why would she cry if she knew I was going to find out about it sooner or later? It is not as if she cared.”
“Well she would have continued crying if she thought you were going to raise a big stink about it. She probably didn’t expect you to find her in the act. It becomes more difficult to explain things . Either way she was convinced that you were not going to do anything about it after the initial outburst. And you did not even do anything then. You just made it easier for both of them by being silent”. He emitted a crude and deliberately prolonged laugh while mentioning this.
We reached Ranbir’s house. He told me to knock on the door. My wife opened the door and asked me to come in. She was surprised to see Chander and was frightened at the sight of his gun. He told her he would not kill her. Ranbir came out and saw me and Chander there. I told him I had come there to discuss what the future held for all of us. He asked me about Chander’s gun. Chander repeated to him what he had earlier told my wife. I took the gun from him and shot both of them.