If we had a buck for all the prem prasangs crawling around on all the local U.P. WhatsApp groups we’re part of, well… let’s just say, boom, gold mine. We could become the media house a la prem prasang anytime we want, really. Meaning, we could turn into the bursting-at-its-seams UPNewsBox, which would then run 24×7 on its stock of prem prasang stories.
But for all this prelude, what, might you ask, is a prem prasang?
These are not love stories that pose pretty as selfies on Instagram, or improv poems on Facebook or hummable ditties on SoundCloud – they do not inspire aww, mush, and they do no launch self-indulgent smiles that rest easy in Hallmark cards. No.
The prem of a prem prasang lives and breathes, thrives, survives and flourishes on the other side of prescribed boundaries, well outside the bounds of social norms.
And while it lives in the grey, it comes shaded in many a hue – there are as many prem prasangs as there are men and women in Bundelkhand.
It could be a night of lust shared with a he-who-must-not-be-named.
It could be a bike ride, a hitchhike that brought you back to the peripheries of your basti, one late, rain-lashed evening.
It could be a stalker you nurture a secret crush on even.
A steamy cyber cafe moment with a Facebook stranger that leads to something definitely less virtual.
It could be a wrong number turned very right.
It could be the mysterious and malleable love jihad.
It could be an elopement. Char bacchon ki nirdayi ma premi ke saath faraar.
Most often, it is the finding of love, outside of a loveless marriage (embarked upon before you could have known what love is).
An act of impulse that two consenting adults embarked on.
An act of impulse that two willing, but naïve teenagers stumbled into.
But it’s when these feelings, dramas, adventures fall into the hands of a lucky (male) Bundelkhandi reporter, that they morph into the prem prasang – a salacious piece of non-news which captures all relationships outside the domain of the conventional and legitimate and incites instant salivation for all media types.
What is essential to the recipe of a prem prasang is how the narrative arc ultimately plays out for the female character/protagonist. It’s almost always, if not always, the woman who comes out on the other side seared and scarred forever. Branded for life. If she survives.
In the case we most recently reported on, from Rajapur in Chitrakoot, where the bodies of a woman and her four children were retrieved from a lake on the 25th of April. The woman was killed for asking her lover to marry her. He was already married, and so he went for the next best thing: he murdered her and her children. ‘Hum lekar aaye the, par bahar rakhne ke liye…’ said the accused Avdesh, in an only-in-Bundelkhand style press conference held after his arrest on the 2nd of May.
A woman who crossed norms is then a certified adulteress – whether she rejected advances, or solicited them, what were the human circumstances of the affair, these are mere details which don’t help the pre-determined arc of the prem prasang’s narrative – a whore who has lost her right to respect, if she had any to begin with. Someone to point fingers at, giggle and gossip about, shun out of the community, make an example of.
A woman in a prem prasang who then dared to come back into the fold qualifies as a used product. “Recovered goods”, as Shanti would tell you. Everyone from the cops to her own husband casually refer to her as someone whose “baraamdi” happened.
Shanti, a resident of Mahoba, went missing early this year in January. Dharmraj, her husband who works as a BSNL karmchaari, filed a missing persons report and waited for appropriate action.
It never came. A month went by and then two, and Dharmraj started getting anxious. People were asking him questions, too many questions. The giggling had already begun and followed him around the village. Because everybody and their aunt it appeared, had spotted Shanti chatting with Umesh, a jawan who had been newly-appointed to maintain general law and order in the market area where Shanti would often go. Some alleged more than mere chatting, and a few could have sworn there was some laughter and light touching involved. Woh bhi public mein. Umesh had even paid Shanti visits at her own home, apparently and while we cannot prove or disprove what transpired between them, we can guesstimate that a friendship had been struck. Shanti herself mentioned eating the prasad Umesh got her one day – the laddoos that were allegedly spiked, which caused Shanti to lose consciousness, and give Umesh the opportunity to have his way with her. “Galat kaam kiyo”, is how Shanti refers to it. It was in this state that she was whisked away, we learn, first to a village nearby and then to Delhi. This was the time Shanti was on the missing persons list “kept” by Umesh, we’re duly informed, with all the emphasis you can imagine and muster loaded onto that word.
Shanti came back late last month, just as the cruel month was ending and an even crueller month beginning – sometimes we think the dry Bundelkhandi summers that comes without respite are what’s responsible for all that heat emanating off prem prasangs – to a husband and children who had since been singled out, ridiculed, and pushed away. Literally so – because by the time she resumed her grihast jeevan with Dharmraj, it was in a makeshift home they had thrown together inside a BSNL tower. Her children, had stopped going to school because of the incessant social pressure.
Dharmraj weaves his own narrative as he plays the role of the wronged husband to the T. We hate our cuckolds with equal vengeance, after all. Shanti is “baramad ki gayi biwi” to him, and he sees no irony in adding that she was a deal struck between Umesh and his friend Mubarak. “Becha tha usko”, “sauda hua tha”, he repeats almost as many times as he recounts the lists of appeals he’s sent to anyone and everyone – from the SP to Yogi Adityanath to Modi himself. The cops, he insist, are corrupt bastards who have been paid off by Umesh. These cops will maybe catch Mubarak, the outsider with the roving eye who has Dharmraj foxed. “Ek Muslim hokar kaise kar liya usne ye kaam, doosre dharm ke saath….” is the incomplete question he leaves hanging in the air. It needs no response; indeed, it doesn’t ask for one.
Shanti, meanwhile, is more upfront about what she wants – a character trait, or the Hamartia of this tale, probably. She wants the men behind bars she tells us, so she can go back to her normal life. Her husband can stop looking over his shoulder. Her children can go back to school.
Discussing what was off-camera with the reporter of this story, Suneeta Prajapati – she with sass to match Shanti’s own – we speak about women and image and self-image. At the end of a long hard working day, Suneeta tells us it wasn’t too hard for her to pick the story tagline. She logged the footage as prem prasang.
The next morning, it got filed in the Delhi newsroom under that exploding folder.