Restricted Entry

ronda-del-boccio
Photo (c) Ronda Del Boccio

Restricted Entry

Words 101

“Sir if you could kindly help?” He bowed obsequiously.

“Yes?” The Dean removed his spectacles.

“Please admit my son into your medical college. He missed the cut off list by just a few marks.”

The Dean pulled a file. “More than twenty marks.”

“I can arrange government funding,” He bargained. “Unlimited.”

“But seats are limited.”

“I’m sure you can work it out.”

The Dean scanned the list of candidates. “So many girls. Why do they want to be doctors? Their place is at home.”

“Perhaps their marks could be shuffled?”

“Perhaps.” The Dean closed the file. “Kindly arrange fund transfer.”

Osoreirimasu.”

***

Osoreirimasu: Thank you in Japanese when you want to acknowledge the trouble that someone has gone to for you. Inspired by this news article

Written for the Friday Fictioneers – a story in 100 words or less. Thank you Rochelle for hosting this challenge and Ronda Del Boccio for the photo prompt. To read the other stories inspired by this prompt please click here.

Thank you for reading and as always I look forward to your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – X

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story

Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat

Chapter 7: To Hell and Back

Chapter 8: A tête-à-tête

Chapter 9: The Ugly Truth

Chapter 10: Unanswered Questions

Lovely spent a sleepless night reliving the horrors, which she had pushed away to the dark recesses of her mind. She was glad when it was morning and she could forcibly pull on the mask of normalcy and go back to work her still raw and bleeding wounds tucked firmly away out of sight – even her own.

The day dragged.

There was no sign of Sonu, not on phone or outside her office.

Just as well she thought as she reluctantly trudged back home and as expected.

But at home she was taken aback to see Sonu along with everybody else, including Ghasitaram. The animated discussion gave way to silence at her entry. Lovely stood at the doorway defiant and questioning. Ghasitaram walked up to her and met her eyes for the briefest moments before looking away.

He drew a deep breath and said. “What happened wasn’t right.”

Her lips twisted. “You mean I should have kept my mouth shut.” She cast Sonu a sneer. “I told you he wouldn’t believe me.”

“It’s not that.” Ghasitaram spoke before Sonu could.

“You believe me?” She was skeptical.

“When Sonu told me, I…I confess I didn’t. But…but like he said why would you say such a thing. So I confronted Lallan.”

“He admitted that he…?”

“No.”

Lovely flashed Sonu another accusing glare and walked away.

“But I saw guilt written on his face.” Lovely halted. “He is alive only because he is bedridden.” She turned around. “I am sorry beta.”

“Why are you apologizing?” She choked.

“Because he is,” Ghasitaram paused, “he was my friend. I feel responsible. But forgive him beta, he is not right in his mind. He is sick. Forgive him and let yourself heal.”

“It’s not just he who hurt me,” Lovely managed to say.

A hushed murmur ran through the room. “Who…?”

“Everyone,” she pointed an accusing finger to her family, “Dadi, Chacha, Chachi. They knew everything but said nothing. Did nothing.” Her voice became stronger. “Instead they told me to keep quiet, behaved as if it was my fault. That it would be better if I just killed myself out of shame and disgust and spare them the bother of having me on their conscience. What kind of society do we live in? Why must the victim keep quiet? Why is the victim shamed?”

Only questions and no answers…

“Why are questions always raised about the girl’s character, her intentions? Despite knowing everything why do they risk their own daughters’ future? Why is everybody so hell bent upon hiding the reality? Why is everyone so afraid of speaking the truth? When will the focus shift from the victim to the rapist?”

A thick silence pervaded the room.

She put a hand to her throat. “I feel suffocated, strangulated because of this enforced silence and the hypocritical lives that we have to live and hold up the image of a perfect family man.”

Eyes burning she faced Sonu. “If a goonda comes and slashes at you, breaks your leg, do you keep quiet?” Her eyes scorched Titu. “Do you hide your face in shame? No! Then why are we forced to do so? Why? Why? Why?” She screamed but again there were no answers.

She shouldered past the gathered crowd and ran to her room. She locked and bolted herself in.

The next day after work, she found Sonu waiting for her outside the bank. She froze him with a blank stare and disappeared into a waiting auto before he could move. But he was waiting for her again the next day and managed to catch her as she got into the auto but she urged the driver to speed away. After five days, Lovely gave in and took the bull by its horns.

“Yes?” she was cold. “What do you want?”

“I…I want to talk to you.”

She crossed her arms. “About what?”

“Things.” He said vaguely. “Many things.”

“I don’t think we have anything more to talk about.”

“You are wrong!” he jumped in. “I have a lot to say.” He looked around. “Please can we go somewhere private?” He quailed at the expression on her face. “A public place,” he clarified. “Like the mall?”

Lovely shook her head resignedly. He really was like a dog with a bone.

“So? What’s the problem?” Lovely asked the moment they were seated in a quiet little café at the nearest mall.

Sonu looked at her with troubled eyes. “I…I just…”

Lovely unbent. “It’s okay Sonu. It’s not your fault. You don’t have to feel guilty and over-correct for someone else’s crime. I am fine.” She swallowed and looked away. “It’s just that I have this huge wound inside of me. It doesn’t hurt if I don’t poke or prod it. But even the slightest of touches inflames it and all the pus comes gushing forth proving again that it hasn’t healed and probably never will. But,” she inhaled sharply, “I repeat it’s not your fault. So don’t feel obliged to explain, justify or even,” her voice wavered, “do a repeat telecast of your avowals of love and what not. Don’t worry I won’t hold you to it.” She smiled mirthlessly. “You can walk away and forget that we ever met.”

He shook his head. “But I can’t forget you.”

“You can and will. Just give it time.” She advised. “Trust me.”

“You can. I can’t and…and I won’t.”

“Oh please Sonu! Don’t be the drama king.” She flared up. “Don’t be so childish and stubborn. You don’t know what you are saying.”

“I know perfectly well what I am saying, if you will let me speak.” He held her eyes. “I love you and I want to marry you.”

“Even after all this?” She looked at him with shock.

“How does that change anything? One evil man hurt you wounded you and I am terribly sorry for that, but that doesn’t change my feelings for you. And why are you so surprised? Isn’t that your angst? Why blame the victim? I don’t think any of this was your fault and so it doesn’t change my feelings. If anything I love you more for having overcome this and come back to save your sister.”

“Don’t try to play the hero Sonu,” Lovely was shaking. “It will backfire on you. The novelty will wear off and…and…and besides I can’t I can’t stomach the thought of,” she broke off.

Sonu draped his jacket over her shoulders.

“Let’s have some coffee or would you prefer tea? You’ll feel better. And they make absolutely delicious tortillas. Have you tried them?”

She didn’t answer and neither did he push her. He took out his phone and flicked through his gallery. “What do you think of this?” He showed her the picture of Goan sunset at the beach. She stared at the colors lighting up the clouded skies. She cleared her throat. “It’s of course beautiful. Why do you ask?”

“The Dhoodhsagar falls was particularly spectacular.” He showed her another picture. “What do you think?”

She nodded.

He scrolled through the pictures holding out the phone to her. “Which do you prefer? The sandy beaches or the rocky beaches?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I don’t know anything about you, your likes dislikes.” He shrugged. “I am just trying to get to know you.”

“Is this anyway to know a person? By playing twenty questions?” She threw up her hands. “Besides what does it matter?”

“It matters to me.”

“You are crazy.”

“I think you are right.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Do you know I fell in love with you at first sight?” he grinned at her expression, “Despite your protective gear,” He paused. “Or maybe because of it.”

“Sonu…”

“God woman! Will you let me speak?” He shook his head. “Boy you are such a chatterbox.”

She glared at him. “That’s rich coming from you.”

“Exactly. So please don’t keep trying to snatch the mike or the center stage from me.” He rebuked her. “So where was I? Yes, when I confessed my feelings to Titu after our third meeting, he also thought the same thing.” He looked into her eyes. “And he promptly whisked me away to Goa for de-addiction and rehabilitation. We had a blast but yet all I could think of was you. How you would have liked the sunset, whether you would have found it romantic or dismissed it with some scientific explanation, whether you would have liked to walk on the beaches or grumbled about the sand that got into everything, whether I could have convinced to try the feni or dance to the music on the ferry…”

“Sonu please,” her voice was raw and cracked. “Please don’t do this.”

“It’s already done. I can’t undo it. I can’t get you out of my system. Not then. Not while I was struggling to cope with the physical pain of the accident. Not now.”

“You’ll regret it.”

“Maybe maybe not. But in this,” he gestured between them, “I don’t have a choice.”

She blew her nose.

“Let’s not talk about me.” Sonu said earnestly. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you to leave me alone.”

“Are you sure?” He asked.

Her eyes dropped before the intensity in his eyes. “I can’t marry you. It wouldn’t be right. I can’t…can’t,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “I don’t think I can have a physical relationship…”

“Okay so we won’t. Any other thing? You don’t dislike me do you?”

She shook her head dumbly.

“Great. So maybe you even like me a little bit?” He grinned engagingly at her.

“You are too much.” Her lips twitched.

“So you are saying that you too love me?”

“When did I say that?”

“Your eyes did.”

“Nonsense.” She looked at her watch. “I think I better go.”

“Look I am trying to cut a deal here.”

Lovely sighed. “What deal?”

“I want us to live together as friends, as partners,” he raised a hand, “and if we have to marry for that,” He shrugged. “So be it.”

“It won’t work out…”

“Well then it won’t! We’ll go our separate ways. What’s the problem?”

“You are the problem Sonu. You are oversimplifying things.”

“No. You are over-complicating things. I just want to share my life with you. Besides, Titu will get married soon and then what’ll become of me? I’ll be all alone.” He made a tragic face.

“You should also get married.”

“Excellent suggestion.” He beamed at her. “So when should we get married? Would you like a destination wedding? How about Goa? Or we could go after the wedding…”

“You aren’t listening to me!” She snapped.

“We’ll have separate rooms. For as long as you want. We can draw up a pre-nuptial and have it written down if you like.”

“It won’t work Sonu it won’t.” She said in despairing tones.

“Why will it not? For centuries people have gotten married for sex, for procreation, for political and strategic reasons so why not for friendship and companionship?” He argued. “You want a career right. Go ahead and make your career but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone at home waiting to eat your head?” Encouraged by her expression he gathered steam and waxed eloquent. “While you are busy at work who will take care of our daughters? Somebody has to be home for them right?”

“Daughters?”

“Weren’t you planning to adopt them? Children need both mother and father.” He paused as a thought struck him. He fiddled with the cutlery. “Or don’t you trust me?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

***

Click here for the Final Chapter: Will She Wont She

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – VIII

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story

Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat

Chapter 7: To Hell and Back

Chapter 8: A tête-à-tête

Today was the day!

Exam over, she was rejoining office after a week’s leave. As she dressed her heart thudded with anticipation and nervousness. She dithered over her dress and changed thrice before settling on one. Stop it she scolded herself, you weren’t this nervous before the exam!

Yes, but he was sure to be there waiting for her after work. She wanted to make sure she was well armed with a thick shapeless drab dress and a severe bun topped with her forbidding spectacles.

But to her dismay he wasn’t there. Nor did he turn up the next day. She checked his last updated status. He was online! She hurriedly exited her app. She was relieved she told herself firmly. This was for the best. For him.

“Miss me?” Once again he popped up when she was least expecting.

“I thought you’d gone back to hell.” She stilled her leaping heart.

“I tried,” he fell into step beside her, “but they threw me out.” He grinned engagingly.

She couldn’t help smiling back at him.

“Oh! Hurry they are going to tow away my car!” Before she knew it she was in the car with him.

“Where’s the tow truck?” she craned her neck.

“Must be coming.” He slid the car into motion and winked at her.

“You think you’re very smart don’t you?” she seethed. “Fine. Let’s talk.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

“Not now.” He focused on the road. “I don’t want to to have an accident.”

She pressed her lips together. “Where are we going?” she asked stiffly.

“To my office. We can have privacy and your sensibilities won’t be offended either.”

She looked away. She yielded the battle and asked. “Are you okay enough to drive?”

He shrugged.

“I mean your leg was broken, so it must hurt?”

“Not as much as it hurts when you rebuff me.”

Sudden tears clouded her vision. She looked out of the window and blinked rapidly. It wouldn’t do to breakdown so easily. She re-bolstered her defenses.

“What do you want?” she demanded aggressively as she faced him in his cabin.

“I thought I had made it clear.” He threw the car keys on the overloaded table. It slithered over the plastic folders and dropped down through a crack in the middle. Lovely sighed and picked it out. Unable to find a reasonably safe place she slid it into the pen stand making sure to keep the distinctive key chain hanging out. “I want to marry you.”

“That’s the trouble with you Sonu,” she faced him with a stern face. “You don’t have vision.”

“Vision?”

“Yes.” She nodded. “You just care about the present. Instant gratification, with a complete disregard for the future, which trust me, will come, sooner or later.”

“What are you talking about?” Sonu was clueless.

She pointed to his messy table. “You threw the car keys without a thought for how you have found it later. All you were concerned about was getting rid of them. But you will leave this room sometime? You will need the car keys? Better to keep it somewhere you can easily find it?”

“I always throw my keys there and I have never ever had any had trouble finding it.” Sonu declared.

Lovely threw up her hands. “That’s neither here nor there. It just proves what I think – that you have no vision and have not spared any thought for the future. Can you seriously see us together? For decades?”

“I can’t see it any other way.” His eyes were soft and warm as they rested on her.

Frustrated (partly because of the way her heart leaped), Lovely almost stamped her foot. “Uff. Please none of this romantic drivel please. Marriage is no child’s play and it’s for a lifetime. Think about it. More than fifty years of commitment to the same person. Can you do it?” He nodded. “I don’t think you can.” She shook her head.

“How can I convince you I am serious? I don’t know about the future but I do know I won’t be able to live for very long without you.” She opened her mouth to give him a dressing down but he forestalled her. “For the past two months as I lay on the bed battled pain and agony of physiotherapy and learning to walk again,” his eyes bored into hers, “all I could think about was you. That you were there waiting for me or worse slipping away from me, kept me going. I pushed myself harder and harder, ignoring the pain. I had to get back on my feet as soon as possible, before someone else snapped you up.”

Lovely’s eyes dropped. She clamped down on her rising answering emotions and rallied. “I am glad I could be your inspiration but this doesn’t prove anything. In fact it seems to me that I am a toy, which has been denied to you. And the novelty of it has you hooked. Soon this craze this obsession will wear off and there would be nothing left.”

“You don’t understand! If I had the slightest doubt that this was an infatuation, I would have never asked you to marry me. I would have wooed you made love to you, got you out of my system and gone on my merry way.” His lips twisted at the shock in her eyes. “Been there, done that,” he gave a self-deprecating cough. “But,” he hastened to reassure her, “With you I don’t feel like that. I just want to be with you.” He looked at her helplessly. “I can’t understand it myself. It’s a weird feeling, uncomfortable and disturbing. Yet exhilarating.” He ran a hand over his hair. “God! I am not making any sense am I?” he groaned.

Unfortunately only too well.

Lovely clenched her fists and forced her jumping nerves to calm down.

“Look,” Sonu got up from his chair and drew up one across her. He leaned towards her, “there’s nothing to worry. I’ve got it all sorted. I…I mean we, Titu and I talked to everyone and they have no issues with me being the groom instead of Titu. Even Ghasitaram has no problem, in fact he has already sounded out your grandparents.” He smiled triumphantly at her. “They have no issues.”

“What about me?” There was just the faintest tremor in her voice. It cracked and she automatically raised her pitched to cover it. “Have you got me sorted too?”

He looked blank which served to fuel her anger.

“You didn’t think about me, my feelings at all did you? Why would I say no to such a brilliant catch isn’t it?” she jeered. “Why can’t you get it through your thick head that I don’t want to marry.”

“But why not?” Sonu stared. “I am financially sound, reasonably good looking and from a decent family, no in-laws to worry about, what’s the problem?” He looked irritated and frustrated.

“The problem is that it is all about you, the others.” Lovely said. “There’s nothing in it for me. My feelings what I want doesn’t matter at all.”

“Okay. Okay.” Sonu raised his hands and backed off. “Okay fine. We’ll talk about you, what you want. I just thought of removing any concerns regarding familial opposition or hurting Titu’s feelings etc which may have bearing on your stance. If you have any other concerns, we can sort it out together. I promise. So let’s see,” he counted on his fingers, “Titu doesn’t have any problem, my family, your family don’t have any issues,” he grinned, “neither do I. So only you are left.” He tapped his chin. “You are worried, I won’t let you work? But of course I will! I already…”

“You know what galls me?” her tone was conversational as she interrupted him.

“What?” he asked warily.

“This thing about you will let me work. Why would you say such a thing? As if I were your bonded laborer or something. Male chauvinist,” she swore under her breath.

“Hey come on!” Sonu protested. “It was just a figure of speech. I didn’t mean anything other than I fully support and respect your decision to work. Like I was saying, I have my heart set on being IAS officer’s househusband. You go out and set the world right and I’ll keep your home sparkling clean, fresh and welcoming. I’ll look after the children, send them to school, make them do their homework…”

“What if I don’t want children?”

“Every woman wants children!”

“I think you know by now, I am not every woman, at least not your idea of every woman.”

“But you like children!”

“How do you know?” she crossed her arms.

“You told us, that you wouldn’t marry, but you would adopt a child, maybe more.” He shrugged. “But if you are getting married, may as well have children and have fun trying,” he winked.

Her lips quivered and firmed. “What if I don’t want to try? Or have fun?” Angry with herself for allowing the bitterness ooze out, she walked to the window.

***

Click here for Chapter 9: The Ugly Truth

 

 

FFfAW: The Pick-me-up

photo-20180716154602260

The Pick-me-up

Words 175

“Come for a walk?” Reema was at the door. “Please! I need to vent.”

“Sure.” Dia shut the door behind her. “Yikes it is hot!” she gasped.

“I know,” Reema agreed, “But I simply had to get out.”

“What happened?”

“It’s every damn thing,” Reema groaned, “and the weather isn’t helping. I have an office deadline, college cut offs and admissions are giving us sleepless nights and on top of it, my father-in-law.”

“What’s he done?”

“He has begun to invite random people home.” Reema groaned. “We’ve guests for dinner and lunch.”

“Just make twice the amount.”

“One batch is pure vegetarian.”

“Oops!”

“Exactly.” Reema sighed. “But there’s one good thing.”

“What?” Dia wiped her brow.

“I don’t dread Hell anymore.”

“Right. It couldn’t be hotter than the kitchen.”

They laughed.

“I guess I better get back.” They traced their steps back. “I can see another crisis looming.”

“What?”

“The husband has a cold.”

“Oh no!” Dia commiserated. “Poor you.”

“Thanks for the shoulder.” Reema grinned.

“Anytime.” Dia winked. “But remember, it’s my turn tomorrow.”

***

Written for the FFfAW challenge – a story in 175 words or less. Thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting the challenge and I am happy to have managed to rise to the challenge this week. Successfully or not, is up to you to decide! To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – V

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story

 

Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

Back home, he had another task cut out.

“What?! Why!?” Titu was annoyed. He had been quite sure Lovely would veto Sonu’s plans and save him the bother. Dammit now he would have to spend time in her company. What if anyone asked who she was? He couldn’t very well say fiancé could he? She was downright ugly and a blot on his standards. “I don’t want to get to know her better!” He echoed Lovely’s sentiments. “What’s the point?”

“What will everyone say?” Sonu asked. “We did put off the engagement saying that you needed time to get to know her didn’t you? And if you don’t meet at least a couple of times, they are going to get suspicious. Even her own Aunt and Uncle.”

“What a bore.” Titu grumbled. “And what a waste of a perfectly good evening.”

“If you were so dead against going, why didn’t you say something before I went to meet her?”

“I did! But you didn’t listen,” Titu pointed out. “Besides I thought she would refuse. I am still surprised that she agreed.”

“She had no choice.” Sonu smirked. “Plus she also has a vested interest,” He pointed out smugly, “She needs to keep up appearances of this engagement.”

“Makes sense.” Titu nodded, “but,” he shot Sonu a keen look, “what doesn’t make sense, is your interest?”

“My interest?” Sonu got up to pour himself a glass of water. He drained it. “I don’t know what you mean.” He picked up his car keys. “Okay then see you at around 7?”

“What’s going on Sonu?” Titu stood in front of him.\

“Going on? Nothing.” Sonu shrugged. “I just remembered, I was supposed to meet a caterer…”

“Don’t lie Sonu!” Titu interrupted, “If you know me, I also know you. So out with it.” He insisted.

“I really don’t know what you are talking about!” Sonu stuck to his story. “I am just trying to help…”

“How are you helping me by forcing me to meet this girl? She doesn’t want to marry me and even I don’t want to marry her….”

“Exactly,” Nodded Sonu, “We need a valid reason to break off isn’t it? The sooner we meet and the oftener we meet the earlier we can convince Ghasitaram that you aren’t suited.” Seeing Titu’s unconvinced expression, he added, “You do know Ghasitaram is hell bent on this alliance?” Titu nodded glumly. “It’s not going to be easy to break this one,” Sonu warned. “We have to find a solid reason one that even Ghasitaram wont be able to overlook.”

“That will be tough,” admitted Titu, “the way he waxes eloquent about his friend. In fact he said until college they were like you and me. It was because of the partition they lost touch until now.”

“I know. He told me that as well. And that’s why we have to meet Lovely and find some solid reason that would convince Ghasitaram.”

“What if he doesn’t get convinced?” The dreadful possibility gave Titu the jitters. “I am not marrying that girl and that’s final!”

“Okay fine! I’ll think of something.” Sonu reassured him.

“I know!” Titu snapped his fingers. “You could marry her.” He said slyly. “You seem quite taken in with her.”

“Rubbish.” Sonu hedged. “It’s just that she’s piqued my interest. She’s so…so different and refreshing from the usual girls, that’s all.”

That’s all. Titu grinned to himself. This was getting interesting. He made no more objections until he saw Lovely.

“You do know we aren’t going to the temple for bhajan kirtan?” Titu said as Lovely got into the car.

She paused in the act of shutting the door, the only indication that the barb had hit home. “Yes.” She slammed the door shut and pulled at the seat belt.

“Then why are you dressed as if you are?” Titu deliberately rubbed it in ignoring Sonu’s glare in the rear view mirror.

“What’s wrong with what I am wearing?” Lovely said stiffly looking down at her sober full sleeved salwar kameez. “Besides, how does it matter what I wear?”

“Of course it matters!” Titu didn’t start the car. “We are going to a friend’s engagement party. What will everyone think? That my fiancé is a behenji?”

“Shut up and drive,” Ordered Sonu from the backsat.

“As you wish,” Titu slid the car into gear and zoomed off. “But for your kind information we are going to a discotheque. So don’t blame me if everyone stares at you or makes fun of you.”

“I thought it was a formal function.” Lovely said stiffly. “Not some half-naked dance party at a discotheque.”

“Call it what you like but we people like to wear clothes which we are comfortable in and not what society expects us to wear.” Titu tapped his fingers on the wheel one eye on Sonu’s black expression. He laughed to himself.

“I am comfortable in these clothes, thank you very much.” Lovely sat stiff and composed as Titu gunned down the road.

“Whatever.” he looked at Sonu through the rear-view mirror, “She can be your friend, fiancé whatever. I refuse to be associated with her.” He screeched to a halt. “Here we are.” He got down from the car. Sonu leaped out and accosted Titu. “How can you be so rude?”

“I had to be rude to be kind,” Titu was unfazed. “If she went in looking like that they would demolish her in no time.” He shook his head. “What were you thinking? And what the hell are you playing at?”

Lovely exited from the car. She slammed the door with finality. “I’ve booked a cab. I am going home. Thank you for a fine evening.” She glared at Sonu.

“Hey no!” Sonu went to her. “Don’t do that! If you don’t want to attend the party,” he looked behind where Titu was already deep in conversation with a couple of girls in bits and pieces of garments, “I’ll drop you home.”

“No thanks.” She raised a hand. “I’ve had enough of your hospitality.” She raised a hand to hail her cab.

Sonu walked up to the cab and dismissed him with a 100-rupee note. He turned to face a fuming Lovely. “If you don’t want to attend the party, I won’t insist. But please let me drop you home. Please.” Lovely glared at him before looking away. Taking it as tacit acceptance he went to Titu. “Give me the car keys. I’ll drop her and come back.”

“Sure.” Titu said affably and handed over the keys to him.

“Please,” Sonu held open the car door and waved her in. She looked up from her phone where she was hunting for a cab. Pursing her lips, she got into the car with a regal swish.

Sonu hurried over to the other side and started the car. “Sorry.” He said. “It’s all my fault. A misunderstanding. I should have warned you about the kind of party.”

“Yes you should have. They you wouldn’t have had to waste your time picking and dropping a behenji.”

Sonu winced but rallied. “Titu said that! Not me. I would never say that to you. Not in a million years.” He swore.

“Wouldn’t matter even if you did.” She dismissed his avowal rather rudely. “I just find it weird that all their lives girls are constantly nagged to dress properly, cover properly sit properly and then wham one fine day she is supposed to drop ALL her inhibitions and along with it everything else! She’s not supposed to draw any attention to herself; She should blend into the background and yet be attractive engaging and forward enough to catch a rich handsome husband. Idiotic double standards.” She ranted.

“Yes I suppose the mixed signals can be confusing,” he slowed the car and slid in to the parking.

“Confusing? They are dizzying and oh so frustrating!” She looked around. “Why are we stopping here?”

“I thought it was only good manners to at least treat you to dinner.” He unstrapped himself and got out of the car. He opened her door where she sat mutinously.

“I don’t want dinner. And definitely not with you.”

“Ouch.” Sonu winced. “No one has ever been so rude to me ever in my life and definitely not a beautiful girl.”

Lovely snorted and crossed her arms.

“Please. Look the guard is coming. Please don’t make a scene. Please!” he begged. The security guard had begun to stroll towards them. Rolling her eyes, Lovely got down from the car. “I don’t like these blackmailing tactics.” She warned. “And it’s the second one tonight. One more and you’ve had it.”

“Yes Ma’am.” He said meekly shutting the door behind her. “I wasn’t very sure what kind of food you’d like so I chose Indian. Is it okay?” He asked worried. “Would you have preferred Chinese or Italian? We can go to another joint nearby if you like.” He waved his hand.

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m not here to ‘enjoy’ my food but only to fulfill my years of ingrained societal niceties, to complete a formality and sooner the better.” She looked at her watch. “I have to study.”

“It will be a quick meal I promise.” Sonu looked at the hovering obsequious waiter. “Anything special you would like me to order?”

She didn’t even deign to reply. Sonu quickly gave their order and dismissed him. “Your ingrained good manners don’t extend to me?” He half-joked half-complained.

She looked at him with a puzzled arrested expression. “You are different.” His heart leaped. “You and Titu. I feel like banging both your heads together.” She said conversationally. “You especially get my goat.” She looked at him thoughtfully. “And I don’t seem to feel the need to censor my words with you.”

Pleased, Sonu leaned back as the waiter served them their drinks. “Cheers!” He raised his drink in a toast. “May you continue to be honest and frank with me.” He indicated her drink with his glass. “Don’t worry, that’s non-alcoholic.”

“So,” she raised an eyebrow, “Yours is alcoholic?”

“Yes.” He took a sip. “Alcohol keeps me focused.” He grinned.

She crossed her arms. “After you finish dinner, I’ll take a cab.” She said pointedly.

“Just one drink,” he promised. “So,” he leaned forrd, “Do you actually like studying?”

“Yes.” She nodded.

“Strange.” Sonu looked at her with concern. “Since when do you have this disease?”

Lovely threw back her head and laughed. He stared at the transformation it brought to her face. She glowed and he was the moth to her light.

“No I am serious.” He insisted wishing he could keep her animated and alive always. He hated the pained withdrawn look that she often wore. “Were you fond of studying even as a child?”

“Yes. Studies came easily to me.” She shrugged. “My parents, especially my father encouraged me and I always topped my school.” Her face clouded. “Until they passed away.”

“I am sorry.” Sonu cursed himself. That dreaded look was back. “It must have been very tough. I lost my mother and that was so difficult to cope with but to lose both your parents.” He shook his head. Surely that wasn’t why she appeared to wear a mask to cover the real her? “How did you cope?”

“I was shifted to the hostel soon after they passed away. It was the best solution for all concerned. Dadi had taken the loss of Papa badly and Chachi had her hands full with two young children and my tantrums alternating with bouts of depression were too much for them to handle.”

“Hostel must have just worsened things for you.”

“No actually it didn’t.” She toyed with the cutlery wearing a far away look. “Hostel was the best thing for me. There was no time to mope or mourn. Life was too busy and hectic with sports and extra-curricular activities. They put me into theater, which was very therapeutic for me. I got the chance to forget myself, become somebody else and also give me perspective and helped me to cope with my loss. Plus while in hostel I could pretend everything was fine, that my parents were still at home, I was just studying.” She swallowed. “That’s why I often refused to go home during vacations.”

“You aren’t taking your drink?” he asked. “Should I order something else?”

“I don’t take drinks with strangers.” She said baldly.

He stared. “I am sitting right here! How could I have laced your drink?”

She shrugged. “How do I know you aren’t in cahoots with the waiter? He seemed to be pretty paly with you.”

Giving her a resigned look he reached out and poured half of her drink into his now empty glass and downed it. “Happy? Convinced?”

“One can’t be too careful.” She refused to apologize.

“I am surprised that you actually agreed to have dinner with me.”

“If you remember,” she pointed out, “I didn’t agree. I have a horror of creating scenes and drawing attention.” She admitted. “But,” she warned. “I am a black belt in judo and karate.”

“Oh.” He was impressed. “I am glad you are on my side.”

She just raised an eyebrow. He grinned cheekily. “So where did you learn self-defense? In school?” He attacked his food.

“I wish.” The brooding dark look was back. “I learned it in college.”

Something had happened in college?

“You studied from DU right?” she nodded. “You stayed with you grandparents?”

“Initially. Then I shifted to the hostel.”

Definitely something in college.

“What did you study?”

“Math. You?”

“Math!” His eyes widened. “Don’t even ask!”

“Did you even go to college?” She mocked.

“Good question!” He grinned engagingly. “I only remember the college canteen.” He looked at her empty plate. “Aren’t you going to eat either?” He pointed to his plate. “Look I’ve been eating and drinking and am still alive.”

“There are worse things than death.” But she helped herself to a piece of naan and some dal.

What he dearly wished to ask but wisely held his tongue. “How’s your grandfather?”

“Not well.” She said shortly.  She took a cautious sip of her drink and put her napkin on the table. “How soon can we go?”

“Once you finish eating.” He promised. “You’ll have to go home and cook dinner for yourself.”

“I already cooked before coming.”

“You cooked?”

“But of course. I get the children ready for school, pack their tiffin serve breakfast, make lunch for everyone and do it all over again in the evening.”

“What does your Chachi do?”

“She oversees everything, decides the menu, controls the purse strings, manages her in-laws, husband kids…”

“But I suppose the children’s homework is also your headache?”

She softened. “The children are no bother.”

“You should thank me.” He asked for the finger bowl

“Why?” she frowned.

“At least you won’t have to serve dinner tonight.”

She laughed. “Actually, honestly that was also one of the reasons I got down from the car.”

“Is that also the reason you are so against marriage? Because you have to cook clean and serve?”

“Partly.” She shrugged. “I don’t mind the work so much as the skewedness of the relationship. Why is everything just her responsibility? Why should she only cook…?”

“That’s not true! Even I know how to cook.” Sonu claimed. “In fact I make a mean biryani and often on weekends when the mood strikes, I cook for everyone.”

“Good for you,” she applauded. “But can you do that everyday not just when the mood strikes you? Four meals a day, every day regardless of heat, the humidity, health and mood?” He was silent. “And listen to complaints and criticisms?”

“That shouldn’t be enough to put you off marriage,” he argued. “You could keep a cook, an army of helpers. And what about children? You do like them don’t you?”

“Yes of course.” She nodded. “Later, when I am better settled in my career and have bought a house of my own, I intend to adopt a child, or as many as I can afford. But I have no intentions of being a slave to someone else’s moods and dictates.”

“No place for men?”

“No.” She stood up. “Can we go now? Or should I book a cab.” She scrolled through her phone.

“Let me pay the bill and we are out of here.” He promised. “How about an ice-cream on the way. Then you won’t have to scrounge for something in the kitchen.”

Her lips twitched. She nodded. “I do like ice-cream.” She admitted.

“Finally!” He pumped his fist

“Can I have your phone number?” he asked as he dropped her off home after a companionable ice-cream binge topped with arguments and discussions over the best flavors and brands.

“You can,” she said, “but you may not.”

“Damn.” He banged on the wheel setting off the horn. She frowned at him and got off the car. “Why not?” he wasn’t giving up so easily.

“Why should I? You do have the landline number don’t you?”

“I thought we could chat sometimes?”

“I don’t have time to chat.”

“Okay fine.” He surrendered. “At least take my card.” He thrust it into her hand.

“Why would I need your card?”

“Who knows?” He shrugged. “Perhaps to plan a wedding?”

He was rewarded with a laugh before she disappeared inside.

He looked at the time on his phone. Just 11 pm. And four missed calls from Titu. He looked up at the dark sky and the moon stared back at him. He suddenly cherished the silence, the loneliness. He couldn’t stomach the thought of going back to the blaring thudding music the gyrating mass of bodies. Not when he was in a different world altogether. He wanted to savor the evening, every gesture, every nuance every expression.

***

Click here for Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – IV

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4 The Unfinished Story

Sonu stood outside the nondescript door in a modest locality and hesitated. What was he doing here? You are here to maintain facades, he told himself sternly. But why you? Titu should be here, he’s the one who is ‘supposed’ to marry her?

But Titu had refused outright. “Let’s not get carried away with this charade okay? She wants to play pretend-to-marry-me because she wants to study undisturbed right?”

Sonu had reluctantly nodded his head.

“So how’s my landing up going to help her in her goal?”

“But her Aunt and Uncle will suspect something is amiss if you guys don’t meet up frequently.” Sonu said.

“Fine!” Titu gave in, “You arrange a meeting with her. Call her up, meet her, do whatever. Just don’t ask me to meet her to arrange a ‘for-show’ meeting.”

And here he was, outside her door, wondering rather belatedly what exactly her was doing here.

Oh yeah – to fix up a meeting with Titu.

You could have called her.

I did, remember? But she wasn’t there.

Yeah right. You could have texted her.

On her Chachi’s mobile?

You could have asked her for Lovely’s number?

What if Chachi doesn’t see text messages? Anyways I have to fix this asap as Titu is free only today.

Yeah right.

I don’t like what you are insinuating. Sonu firmly squashed that pesky nitpicker in his head and rang the bell.

There was crash, a scream and a yell. Before Sonu could bang on the door, it opened and a pair of arms wrapped around his waist and clung to him, “Save me Papa, save me!”

“Suriiiiii!” Hair flying Lovely came up at a run and stopped short as she saw who it was at the door. The animation in her eyes died down and a mask slid into place.

“Suri,” she disentangled the little girl and hissed, “Go inside. I’ll deal with you later,” she promised in a dire voice.

Embarrassed, Suri slunk away.

“Namaste.” She said formally while trying to gather her flying tresses and coax them into a bun. “Please sit.” She said decorously. “Did you have some work with Chacha Chachi? I am sorry they are out and will be late. I’ll get some water.” She turned away.

“No!” Sonu stopped her. “I don’t want water or tea or coffee,” he added hastily at her expression.

“But you must have something! I’ll get an earful otherwise.” She fretted.

“You can always tell them, we don’t eat anything from the to-be-bride’s house before the wedding.” He grinned at her.

“Why?” She sat down. “So that you can eat her head for the rest of her life?” He could swear he saw a dimple peep out.

“You are so quick!” He praised. “You deserve to be in the IAS!” He looked at her. “You aren’t wearing your spectacles.”

She looked away. “I…I am wearing my contacts.”

“Yet that day you wore your thick ugly spectacles?” He said softly. “And not just that, you armed yourself with a shapeless dress with an oversized dupatta and topped it with an oily hairdo.”

“I did hate making a spectacle of myself.” This time he clearly saw the dimple. She sighed “I thought of scaring you away with all the paraphernalia but since it Dadaji had made his intentions very clear I decided to change tactics and get some protected time till my exam.” Her eyes twinkled and her dimples were in full view.

Sonu blinked to clear the daze. “Didn’t your Aunt say anything?”

“Chachi is always too caught up in her make up to worry about me. Chachaji approved of my traditional appearance as did Dadi.” She seemed to clam up. “Let me get you a cold drink.”

On the verge of protesting, Sonu subsided. It would give him a reason to prolong his stay.

Now why would you want to do that?

Distracted by muffled giggles, he looked up. Two bright pairs of eyes were inspecting him from behind the curtains. He beckoned them.

Tripping, pushing and shoving they presented themselves. “And who may you be?” He asked with a smile.

“That’s Suri or Surabhi,” Lovely re-entered carrying a tray, “and that’s Lata, my cousins. Say Namaste and go in.” She ordered, offering the Coke to Sonu.

“We want to stay and talk to Jijaji.” Suri piped up.

Sonu choked and sputtered. Lovely offered him a couple of napkins. She glared at the two girls looking on avidly. “He’s not…go inside!” She jerked her head.

They shuffled away.

“You didn’t say why you came?” Lovely asked rather abruptly.

“To hear the rest of the story.”

“What story?” She frowned. Her brow cleared. “Oh that?”

“Yes that story. I am sure it didn’t end there did it?”

“No it didn’t.” A small smile played about her mouth. “She extracted her pound of flesh.”

“How? She spoke the truth? And they believed her?”

“You think anyone would believe a woman over a man? In those days? Even today, when it is his word against hers, his voice is louder isn’t it?” she looked at him with a sneer. “Even if she shouts herself hoarse from the rooftops.”

He brushed it away. “So what happened? I am genuinely curious.”

“You could have googled it.” At his look of chagrin and irritation, she yielded. “Okay fine, I’ll tell you just for the sheer pleasure of showing you the power of silence.”

Sonu looked at her puzzled. “Power of silence?”

Lovely raised a hand. “Patience! Chandra was put in jail and then began the hearings. Chidham and his lawyer friend fed her with lots of escape routes – say that Radha used to often fight with me, say that she attacked me, say that she tripped on the sickle, say that it was in self-defense – etc etc. Chandra was silent through these exhortations and meetings. When the judge asked her of any bad blood between her and Radha or whether it was in self-defense, she calmly refuted possibilities and accepted culpability of the crime. Chidham and Dukhiram were shocked. Unable to bear the guilt Dukhiram confessed the truth – he was hungry and she refused him food so he had killed her. Determined to save his brother, Chidham too jumped into the fray and said it was he not his brother Dukhiram who had killed Radha because she had refused him food.”

Sonu looked at Lovely with a resigned expression. “Too little too late eh?”

“Yeah. Sort of.” Lovely nodded and continued, “Naturally the judge was not convinced and convicted Chandra. She was awarded the death sentence.”

“The system isn’t fair.” Admitted Sonu, “but things are different now…”

“Is it?” queried Lovely. “Anyway to end the story, despite repeated pleas, Chandra refused to meet her husband even once before her death. When she was asked why, she said only one word,” she paused. “Maron or die, possibly the Bengali equivalent of rot in hell or even the F word…”

Sonu looked bewildered. “How…what does that mean?”

“Don’t you have any sensibility or sensitivity?” Lovely sighed in frustration. “By refusing to meet Chidham, by refusing to give him the scope to confess his guilt, sorrow and shame, she ‘punished’ Chidham.” Lovely’s eyes glowed. “She sentenced Chidham to lifelong guilt and shame one from which he would probably never be able to recover.”

Dazed, Sonu shook his head. “Women are so…so devious and complicated.”

“Men are not?”

“Nope.” Sonu shook his head.

“You are right.” Lovely gave a bitter laugh. “They have only one thing on their minds.” She got up. “I am sure you must be busy. Thank you for coming.”

“That’s not fair,” Sonu protested without getting up, “We don’t just have S.E.X on our minds.”

“And you proved it.” She mocked. “I wasn’t talking of that one thing.”

“Then what were you hinting at?” Challenged Sonu.

“I meant power, control and dominance.” Lovely’s eyes flashed. “Isn’t that what sex is all about?”

“No.” Sonu shook his head.

“There’s no point in continuing this conversation.” She was back to her wooden self. “Was there anything else?” she asked politely but pointedly.

“I would love to continue that conversation,” Sonu got to his feet, “But actually I came to ask if you were free to go out this evening?”

“Go out where?” She was suspicious. “With whom? Why…?”

“Whoa!” Sonu raised his hands as a shield. “Give me a break! Let me complete will you?”

Lovely shook her head. “I’m busy. I have to study.” She looked at her watch. “In any case, I wasted a lot of time today.” She gave him a scathing look.

Sonu laughed. “I, on the other hand had a most educative day. I have suddenly developed a very healthy respect and regard for women. Who knows how they may turn against you?”

“And men are so innocent and blameless.” She sneered.

“We are like that only.” Sonu wore a pious expression. “Anyway, I wont take up more of your time now, but will be back around 8 pm with Titu and go for a party.”

“I told you! I have to study. Besides, I don’t do parties.”

“Come on! Don’t be such a stick in the mud. You and Titu can get to know each…”

“Hey! Wait.” Lovely jumped in alarm. “Did you not get what I said the other day? I am NOT going through this marriage.” She cast a worried look around and lowered her voice. “So there is no point in getting to know Titu or anyone else.”

“Okay,” Sonu eased off and continued glibly, “I framed that incorrectly. What I meant was that we need to maintain appearances, otherwise our families will become suspicious. You do want to be free of matrimonial hassles until October don’t you?”

“And what’s in it for you?” She asked skeptical. “I cannot believe you are doing this for purely altruistic reasons.”

Exactly. What’s in it for you Sonu?

He shrugged. “I told you. I am like that only. Kind, considerate and every ready to help others.”

Before Lovely could protest, or worse, walk off her uncle and aunty entered. They gushed and fawned over Sonu until Lovely was ready to throw up. And he wasn’t even the groom she thought sourly.

“But of course you must go Lovely!” Aunty said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know your future life partner. Enjoy and cherish these moments.” She patted Sonu. “Thank you beta. She will go. Would you like some tea?” She asked all solicitous concern. “Coffee? Cold drink.”

“Thank you.” He escaped victorious yet avoiding meeting Lovely’s furious eyes with a trapped expression. “Lovely was most hospitable and made me feel very welcome.” His eyes danced as he met hers.

***

Click here for Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – III

If you’ve just joined the fun, perhaps you may like to read the previous two chapters first, otherwise feel free to scroll away 🙂

Click here for Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Click here for Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Sonu relaxed. He reached out and took a pakora. “So why did you agree to come today?”

“I had no choice.” Lovely shrugged. “When the offer came from your grandfather, everyone was ecstatic,” she paused, “even envious. It was as if I had won the Nobel Prize or something. And of course there was no question of refusing. That’s just the groom’s prerogative.”

Sonu was perplexed. Now that Titu was ‘safe’ from the clutches of yet another unsuitable not to mention unscrupulous manipulative witch, he focused on the girl and the mixed signals he was getting.

“You don’t want to marry Titu?” Sonu asked.

She shook her head.

“But you want us to play along for a while?” He wanted to be sure.

“Yes.”

“For how long?” Sonu’s bored into hers before they dropped.

“Until 15th October.”

The boys looked at each other puzzled. “Okay, look,” Sonu said, “this isn’t fair. You know everything about us while we know next to nothing about you. If you want us to play along, you better come clean and spill the beans. Otherwise…”

“Otherwise what?” Lovely challenged.

“Otherwise I will insist that you two get married next week.”

“Hey!” An alarmed Titu sat up straight. “Why make me the scapegoat?”

“Shush!” Sonu hushed him, “this isn’t about you. It is about her.” He turned to her. “Are you going to tell us or,” he looked suggestively towards the restaurant where the parents were laughing loudly and talking excitedly.

Lovely took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “Fair enough.” She nodded. “Here’s the thing. I want to join the civil services. My exams are in October and I don’t want repeated exhibitions for the purposes of finding a suitable groom and neither am I prepared to hear a million taunts for rejecting the best groom ever and far far beyond my station in society.”

“Oh.” They looked blankly at her. “You actually want to study?” Sonu’s voice dropped to a disbelieving whisper.

“Yes!” Her eyes sparkled bringing an attractive glow to her otherwise unremarkable face. “I love academics. I want to work, study, and be independent and answerable to only myself. At least in personal matters.”

“What if you don’t clear the exams?” Sonu drummed his fingers on the table. “They are very tough aren’t they?”

“Yes they are tough, especially so because I am working as a Probationary Officer at a bank. I hardly get any time to study. But I will get into civil services.” She wore a determined look. “If not this year then next year, or the next. No matter how many years it takes.” There was a fanatical gleam in her eye.

“Hey!” An alarmed Titu sat up. “Does that mean…?”

Lovely gave him a pitying look. “Relax. You only need to play along for the next two months or so. I’ll manage after that.”

“Why don’t you talk this out with your parents?” Sonu was curious.

“Don’t you know?”

“What?”

“My parents died in a road accident when I was 14 years old. I was put in the hostel. When I completed schooling I came to Delhi and have been living with my grandparents.” She said in an emotionless monotone. “Now that grandfather has had a stroke and Dadi isn’t keeping well either, they want to marry me off and fulfill that last obligation.”

“That does make sense.” Titu came to life. “You should get married. How will you cope alone when your Dada Dadi…?”

“Why?” objected Sonu, “She has her Uncle and Aunt doesn’t she? She can stay with them.”

“Why do I have to stay with somebody?” Lovely cut in.

They stared at her. “But…”

“Do you stay with anybody?” She asked Sonu.

“No. But…”

“Yeah.” Nodded Lovely. “But you are a MAN right? You can do ANYTHING!” She was seething. “While I have to stay under somebody’s protection.”

“It is for your own safety.” Titu said.

“Yeah right.” Lovely fumed.

“Is that why you are dressed so…so,” he searched for a word which wouldn’t sound offensive, “conservatively? To scare the groom away?”

“Dress?” She looked down upon herself. “What’s wrong with my dress?” She smacked herself on the head. “Oh sorry I forgot! You are broadminded people,” she jeered, “You don’t mind if a barely covered bride-to-be shakes a leg uninhibitedly in front of a crowd which includes her grandfather-in-laws and uncle-in-laws ogling her unabashedly do you?”

“To which era do you belong?” It was Sonu’s turn to sneer. “Eighteenth century? He clicked his fingers. “Snap out of it. This is the twenty-first century and nobody cares about such things. It’s prudish people like you with old-fashioned sensibilities that drag women down.” He shook his head and snorted. “And you want to be an IAS officer. To do what? Put women back into the purdah?”

“Twenty-first century is it?” Lovely refused to back down. “Don’t you want a good sanskari traditional bahu who will serve the family, bind the family, take care of everybody?”

“Of course!” Sonu defended, “Just like you would want a decent guy who would look after you and your family. That won’t change and should not change.”

“Oh please!” Lovely threw up her hands in disgust. “Which Utopian era do you belong? All that is required from the groom is that he be ready to ‘lend’ his name to her. In return, she has to sacrifice everything, if need be, her own life for his family.”

“What rot!” Sonu protested hotly.

“Is it?” Lovely leaned back into her chair. “Over a hundred years ago, Guru Rabindranatha Tagore wrote a story Punishment.”

“Yeah so?”

“You’d be surprised at how little if anything has changed since then.”

“Okay so what’s this story about?” Titu was interested despite himself.

“The story is set in deep rural Bengal and is about two poor brothers who are farmers – Dukhiram and Chidham.” Lovely dove into the story without any further ado. “They are married to Radha and Chandra respectively. Lovely drained her cup. “Chandra is about 17 or 18 years of age, is pretty and willful. Chidham too is handsome and has a roving eye. He often stays out nights without bringing any earnings, which irks his wife. She retaliates by going out often to the riverside and praising another man. Chidham doesn’t like it and abuses her verbally and physically. The next day she disappears to her uncle’s home, few villages away. Chidham could bring her back only after a lot of effort and pleadings.”

Sonu laughed. “Yes! Nothing has changed. She still does that and the poor husband has to dance to her tunes.”

Lovely rebuked him with her eyes and continued. “He has a love-hate relationship with his wife and obsesses about her. Because of her, he is so disturbed and restless that he fantasizes about her death, which could perhaps give him some peace.”

Sonu exchanged a knowing glance with Titu and raised his hand for a high-five. “Poor husband. I do feel for him. You are right! Again nothing has changed.” They laughed.

Lovely ignored them. “Radha and Chandra too don’t get along very well and neighbors are quite inured to their loud arguments and fights.”

The boys chortled and went for another high-five.

Lovely rolled her eyes. “That was the background of the story. The actual incident is about the day, the two brothers return home after a particularly unproductive day hungry and tired. The house is deathly silent. It is evident that things have been pretty bad between the two ladies today. Ignoring them, Dukhiram asks his wife to serve him food. Radha snaps at him and taunts him if she was supposed to go out and earn money for his food as well. Blind with rage, Dukhiram raises his sickle and kills her.”

“Oh!” Sonu sat up. “A sting in the tale!”

“Radha falls down beside Chandra spattering her with blood. Chandra opens her mouth to scream but Chidham claps a hand over her mouth. He doesn’t want anyone to know what has happened. It was dark. Perhaps no one would get to know. Perhaps they could dispose of the body.” Her voice rose and fell with Chidham’s thoughts. “And perhaps that’s what would have happened if a neighbor hadn’t decided to drop in at that moment to collect his dues.”

“What happened then?” Titu too was sucked in.

“The neighbor is naturally shocked to see the bloody scene and demands an explanation. Chidham falls at his feet and confesses, “Chandra killed her. Please save her.”

“What does Chandra say to that?”

“Nothing. She is too shocked to say anything. The neighbor, inured and witness to their daily fights, also a lawyer by profession, accepts it and says, “Tell the police that Dukhiram asked for food and she refused that’s why he got angry and killed her. We can get your brother off the hook. Don’t worry.”

Sonu looked at Titu and whistled.

Lovely raised an eyebrow. “Ironical isn’t it?” she gave a bitter laugh. “The truth shall set you free.”

“That’s it? That’s the story?” Sonu asked. “I don’t see the relevance,” he complained.

“No.” Lovely shook her head. “There’s more. Do you know what Chidham response was to this suggestion?”

“What?” they asked.

“Chidham said,” Lovely paused for dramatic effect, “I can get another wife but how can I get another brother?”

There was silence.

“Lovely!” It was her aunt calling.

“Coming Chachi.” She got up. “Can you see the parallels?”

Sonu exchanged glances with Titu and slowly shook his head.

It’s not about who is right and who is wrong,” Lovely said pointedly looking at Titu who flushed as he recalled his words to Sweety after she had garlanded him. “Isn’t that what you said in the twenty-first century? Clearly nothing has changed in the past one hundred years. What if Sweety was right and Sonu wrong?” She gave a bitter laugh. “But that is not important is it? What matters is that Sonu is your friend and you will support him in whatever he may have done – right or wrong. In all things, she is still comes a distant nobody on his list of priorities.” She walked away.

***

Click here for Chapter 4: An Unfinished Story