Monday, October 24, 2011

Moving On

I often saw him standing with his friends on the coffee station. Our eyes met frequently; yet, neither of us acknowledged each other. And then the day came, when we were to work on the same project. Nick, my boss, called me to his small cabin. The moment I entered the cabin, I saw him sitting with Nick.

Nick waved to me and said, “ Hey Naina, come in!! This is Dave. Dave.. Naina. You both will be working together in the next project.”

I stretched out my hand to him.

“Hey Dave! Nice to meet you.”

“Hey Naina!! Nice to meet you too.” Dave held my outstretched hand a little longer than usual. After a while, I withdrew my hand and caught a naughty glint in his eyes.

Sifting through his papers, Nick looked up, “I will leave you both to discuss the project. I have a meeting to attend.”

I turned to face Dave, and saw his appraising look.

I gave him a perplexed look, “What?”

“Nothing!! Wondering about you. Are you single?”

For a moment, I was taken aback. I quickly hid my surprised reaction to say, “No”.

“Ahhhh!!”

I smiled warily and shook my head. I turned to leave the room. “Let’s sit together tomorrow for next-phase planning.”

He answered with a retreating drawl in his voice, “Okkk”

On my way back home that day, I contemplated over Dave’s question - whether I was single. I had been asked this question couple of times before, and I always evaded the topic. I myself did not know whether I was single or committed, or in simpler terms – married or widowed. My husband Neil, a US army captain deployed in Afghanistan, was reportedly missing for the past two years. Last seen, he was ambushed in a deadly bomb blast, but army did not have any whereabouts about him.

An Indian by origin, I was born and brought up in India. I came to US for higher studies. I met Neil when I was in college. We dated for three years, and soon after graduation (despite strong resistance from my family) we got married. Neil always wanted to be in the army. We lived a happy married life of two years, till he was deputed in Afghanistan. When I came to know that he was missing, I went into denial - never accepting that he could have been martyred in that ambush. I always thought and hoped that he was well, and soon will return one day. I vehemently opposed any thought or opinion that suggested that he might be dead. I broke contacts with my family and friends, never talking to anyone how I felt. Instead, I immersed myself completely in my work, working almost 14 hours a day.

The next few days were very difficult for me. Dave was hard to ignore. He was one of those unique combinations of good looks, intelligence and compassion. Though we worked together in a team, I always felt his eyes on me. Though he never made a move after our first meeting, I strongly felt a silent chemistry between us, which got intense day by day. I got acutely aware of accidental touches or encounters. His thoughts dominated my mind, which I tried my level best to brush aside.

Things became easier, as the project demo date neared. We turned our attention to our work – working in frenzy. It was a Friday evening. I and Dave were preparing a demo presentation. The entire team had left, and we had been working in office for the past sixteen hours. Unable to stare at the monitor any longer, I got up for a break. He accompanied me to the nearby coffee shop. Over the cup of coffee, he saw me idly playing with my wedding ring.

He smiled, “Do you know, what human behavior experts say?”

“What?”

“That when a woman plays with her wedding ring, she is unsure about her marriage!!”

I gave him a tired smile. My tiredness, perhaps, lowered my defenses, and my eyes watered.

He apologetically looked in my eyes and gave me soft look, “I am sorry if I hit a wrong chord. I did not mean to pry.”

“That’s fine Dave! My husband is an army captain, and has been missing, during the course of war, for the past two years. I know he might be no more, yet I am not ready to move on. I feel I am married to him, still committed to him.”

For next five minutes, I went on talking about Neil’s disappearance and my life afterwards. I could not believe my ears. I had finally talked about it. I felt lighter. All these years, a tight feeling clutched my heart, and suddenly I felt relieved. He held my hands softly and said, “Sorry about your loss, Naina!!”

The ice between us broke that day. Demo went fine, and our project got a go ahead. Next six months saw our friendship flourishing. Comfort level seeped in our relationship, and I talked to Dave about anything – my marriage to Neil, lovely times that we spent together, my troubled relationship with my parents, back in India, my doubts and deepest fears.

On the project completion party, he asked me out for a date. I agreed. Ours was a perfect date. We dined in an exotic beach resort. He looked handsome in formals, and he could not take his eyes off me either. We kissed that night.

Life moved at a rapid pace. Dave and I were completely in love with each other. We started seeing each other, and gradually the kisses started getting even more passionate day by day. Then one evening after dinner, he fiddled with his jacket. Suddenly, he brought out a ring and sat on his knees to say, ‘Marry Me, Naina!!’ I was in such a daze that I did not realize that I had already stretched out my hand. Suddenly my glance fell on a small solitaire ring that I was already wearing. It was the ring which Neil had got me from his first salary from Army, our wedding ring.

It was as if somebody woke me up abruptly in mid of a sweet dream. Yea, the time that I spent with Dave was like a dream; but the reality was that I still belonged to Neil as his lawfully wedded wife.

I gasped in agony. A wave of unexplained guilt ran through me. I turned my back to Dave and started running, without saying a single word to him. He kept calling my name….

Next few days, I went into the denial mode again. I took leave from my office, and stopped answering calls from Dave. I put my phone on answering machine, and cut myself from the entire world. Dave left several messages every day, saying that he loved me and needed me. His voice sounded so distraught that my heart went out to him.

After several countless days, my phone rang and a strange yet familiar voice spoke from the other side. My heart dipped.

It was Rick, Neil’s buddy and best friend, who was in the same troop that was deployed in Afghanistan. “Hey Naina! This is Rick. I returned from Afghanistan just two days before. Just wanted you to know that…” he paused as his voice lowered “Neil could not make it through the ambush. One of the critically injured soldiers woke up from a coma few days before, and he said he saw Neil trying to defuse the bomb which went off. Neil took the entire impact of the blast. Neil has been declared a war hero.”

I dropped on the floor, as my legs gave away. He continued, “I have brought his belongings along with, and have sent you the same. Let me know if I can be of any help to you. Take care.”

That evening I received Neil’s suitcase. I opened the box, his clothes neatly packed.

I unpacked each piece and hugged them. The pain and grief tore my heart. Suddenly a letter dropped from one of his shirts. It was marked,

“For my wife, Naina
To be delivered when I die”

My hands trembled when I opened the letter. These were Neil’s last words to me.

To Naina,
My love!! You will read this after my death. But dear, hold your head high. I have died a hero’s way. Don’t mourn, only the fortunate can lay down their life for country.

Sweetheart! I just wanted you to know that I want you to be happy after I die. Move on!! Love again!! Lead a happy life. I will always be there…alive in your memories, but don’t let your love die with me. For my happiness dear…be happy!

Love you always!!
Neil ;)

I wailed like a child. I lost Neil forever. I was in a daze, for God knows how many hours. Next morning when phone rang, it was Dave. With one hand still holding Neil’s letter, I answered the call.

I had moved on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saving the Girl Child

Naina was the life of her family. For her parents she was a bundle of joy...her mom's best friend and her dad's favorite child. Naina was younger to her brother, who doted on her like a parent would do.

Naina was a hard-core feminists. Her views and her decisions always said..."Down with Male Chauvinism"; "Down with parents' preference for male child"; and most importantly "Down with female foeticide". She would excel in every debate. Friends looked up to her as a representative of female rights. Guys were careful with her. They knew, Naina would not spare any sexist comment. Naina had a fire inside that enlightened her views and actions. The love and support she got from her family nurtured the fire inside ..everything was flowing happily until her brother got married.

Her brother wife never got along with Naina. Whenever there was any argument in the family, Naina's parents would tell her to stay quiet...as she ultimately had to go to her own home. And Naina would wonder, "wasn't this my home till now?". As time passed by, Naina lost the support of her brother...And she silently observed how her parents always supported her brother. She was heart broken. She faced gender discrimination in her own home. But still everything was flowing fine.

Naina dreamt of a soul mate and a happy life. Naina's parents started looking for a match for her. For few years they kept looking, but one thing or the other would spoil the matter. Naina observed the male chauvinism in the Indian society. Gradually Naina observed that her parents lowered their preferences. They were ready to make compromises about her life. "Why the desperation to get rid of me?", she would wonder. Then the proposal from Shekhar's family came. Naina was reluctant, but her parents convinced her of shekhar's virtues. Tired of tensions with brother and his wife, Naina said yes. The fire in her mellowed down. That day Naina wondered again " Why am I being convinced of the proposal when I don't want to?" She knew within deep of her hearts that Shekhar was not the right match for her. But looking at the way her parents got relaxed after the alliance, she did not protest. Silently, Naina compromised her life and future.

Naina found Shekhar's family much below her expectations. Even though she had a government job, and handed them the whole salary, they tortured her physically and mentally. Amidst the chaos, Naina's parents could do nothing except repenting the fact that they misjudged Shekhar's family. One day Naina packed her bags to leave Shekhar. But when she reached her parents home, they told her that she needed to adjust with her husband, and that she was not welcome there. She saw a look of triumph in her brother's eyes. Well her supposedly own people were happy over her misery. "So for my brother," she thought.

Naina got pregnant. The news brought a new wave of happiness for her. She dreamt of a beautiful little doll like baby girl. In her third month, weird discussions started in her home. Her mother-in-law started pressurizing for the pre-natal test. Her husband strongly supported his parents. It was a baby girl. They pressurized her for an abortion. But Naina was adamant. That evening, there were heated arguments in the family. Shekhar and his parents on one side, and Naina on the other. In the heat of the argument, Shekhar hit Naina. She fell down and got drowsy. In her drowsiness, she saw her little girl far away...the little one was crying and saying, ""Ohhh mom!! Why do you want me? I don't want to be a woman!! I don't want to go through the life you are going through!! Kill me before you see me going through the same sufferings? Mom!! I don't want to live such a life!!" In her dream Naina ran towards her child and hugged her. She told her child, " But you are all what I have." The little girl said, " No maa!! you will never have me. My life will be ruled by a father who never wanted me, and later by my husband. Do you want to give birth to another slave like you?". In her dream, Naina kissed her child, and her child disappeared. When Naina woke up from her dreams, she was crying like a mourning mother.

Fifteen Years Later

A little girl of 5 years was playing in a park with her friends. At some distance Naina was sitting reading her book. The moment she would win, she would look at Naina whether she is watching or not. Naina was finding it hard to concentrate on her book. That little girl caught her constant attention. Naina felt that the girl looked like little girl of her dreams. Naina's eyes filled with tears and she let out a small sigh. Suddenly a young girl came a hugged Naina from behind. She was wearing tennis dress, and a tennis racket hung casually on her shoulder. She said excitedly, "Mom!! I won!!" Naina kissed her forehead and they both walked towards the park exit. Watching them starting to leave, the little girl ran towards her and hugged Naina from behind. She said, "Miss, will you come tomorrow. I will wait for you." Naina nodded silently. On her way back Naina said to her daughter, "Aru, I am thinking of adopting this little girl." Arunima gave a surprised look to Naina. Oblivion of Arunima's expression Naina continued," Fifteen years back I almost lost you becoz your dad didnot want you. This girl was found abandoned. She was thrown away becoz her parents didnot want her. I will give her what she didn't have till now. Mother's love." Naina's thought went back to the same time when she woke up from dream.

When Naina woke up from that dream, she realized why a mother says yes to female foeticide - not because she would love her daughter any less than her son; because probably she wants to save her child from the hardships and pain that she has suffered in her life. Being a woman she understands what a woman has to go through. She almost went through the trauma of losing her child. She realized she could not afford to lose her child. Her child's views sparked the fire within her. She decided she will not let her child go. She will give a better life to her child...set an example for women like her. She will give a better future to her daughter, so that she does not repent being born as a woman.

Naina decided to part ways from her husband. This time, she did not go to her parents home. She went to a working women hostel. During her pregnancy she got in touch with an NGO, where she started going on weekends. She used to work as a volunteer there. The people at NGO became her family, they loved her for what and how she was. Naina gave birth to a lovely little girl, whom she named Arunima the glow of dawn.

All these years life had been a struggle at every step. People still donot take single mothers very well. At times, loneliness and lack of life partner would engulf her and depress her. But with Arunima her side, she got strength at every step. Naina brought up Arunima like a friend - giving her space, and respecting Arunima's decisions. Today they led a comfortable life. She came to know that her ex-hubby married again, but never had a child from second marriage. He tried to contact Naina so that he can meet Arunima, his only child. But Arunima declined. He had rejected her few years back; and now she rejected him. And then Naina met Milli, a small girl in the orphanage ran by the NGO Naina was associated with. Milli tugged Naina's heart every time she met her. And now Naina had made up her mind. Next day Naina went to the orphanage with Arunima and put her papers to adopt Milli.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Uprising

“Maina Devi!!!”, the old accountant called out and looked, from above his spectacles, at a group of women waiting eagerly for their turn to come. A frail woman in late twenties, with face covered in veil stood up. Accountant asked her to put her thumb impression. She stretched out her hand, full of bangles, pressed on the dye and put her thumb impression. The accountant gave her the money for the day’s labour. Maina kissed the money and put it on her forehead, thanking her God for the first payment of the day. A factory was being constructed in the village; so they employed the women folk of the village for manual labour. Maina husband had gone to city to work and sent money for home on monthly basis; but by the end of month it always fell short. Now she could earn money on her own, and make her family’s ends meet. On her way back Maina remembered that she had to take groceries also. With veil down till her chin, she rushed towards village grocery shop. The shopkeeper was an old man, so upon entering the shop she touched his feet. With barely audible voice, she asked for things she wanted to buy. With her head lowered she made the payment, bowed in front of shopkeeper and made way to home.

On her way to home she wondered if Tara, her daughter, had prepared dinner. Tara was ten years old and the eldest of her three kids. By the time Maina reached home, Tara would finish all the household chores for her. The thought of Tara brought a fond smile on her face. Upon reaching home, Maina saw that all her work has been done. A rush a relief swept Maina and she sat down to rest. The moment she relaxed, her elder brother-in-law entered the room; Maina jerkily put her saree down her face. She had never talked to him face to face. He was probably looking for her mother in law. In his presence Maina did not dare move. She stood still. In her veil, she failed to notice his flustered expressions. But she was surprised to see him at home that evening; he always returned late evening. Being a widower, he seldom stayed at home. Maina and her mother-in-law took care of his two kids. When he left, Maina looked for Tara. She called her twice or thrice; but no response. Maina walked up the roof to look outside, when she saw Tara sitting in a corner. She was probably crying. Maina asked her the reason but Tara ran away; evading her questions. “She must have got a beating from her grandmother,” thought Maina.

Somewhere in the City: Household where Maina’s husband worked

Naina came back from her kitty party. Petite and lovely looking Naina was married in one of the most influential families of the city. That afternoon, Naina got late to reach the stop, where Sara’s school bus dropped her. Sara was an eight year old child, studying in one of the best schools of the city. As Naina rushed towards the bus stop, she saw a happy, jumping and jiggling Sara coming with her nephew Amit. Amit was Naina’s brother son. He was studying medicine and stayed with them only. Naina smiled at both of them. Amit said, “I observed that you were late, so thought of picking up Sara myself.” Sara excitedly said, “Mom, Amit Bhaiya is so good. From tomorrow onwards he will pick me from my bus stop. You know we had such fun on the way back.” Amit also said, “ Yeah from tomorrow I will pick Sara.” Naina heartily accepted.


Back in village, Maina was waiting for her husband to come. Every night would seem so long to her. Laying on make shift bed on the ground, Maina looked at her kids. She observed that Tara had gone very quiet these days. Even though she completed all the household chores, but seldom talked to anyone. She turned her side and lovingly put her hand on Tara, who was sleeping next to her. The moment she touched her, Tara jerkily got up from her sleep and gave out a small shout. She shivered with fear. Maina consoled Tara, and put her to sleep. But a sixth sense, usually attributed to mothers about their kids, gnawed her. Something was wrong with Tara; she was not her usual self. She wondered what might be the reason.

Well!! It did not take long for things to get clear. That day Maina had come back early from the site. She saw that all her room was turned upside down. Hmm that must be Tara again; she keeps fiddling with my sarees to play with her dolls, she thought. TARAAA !! She called…but she got no answer. Suddenly she heard a muffled shriek. That was tara…she knew. She ran in the direction from where the sound came…and what she saw took the ground off her feet. She saw her brother-in-law raping Tara. Tara was struggling to free herself, but he was strong enough to overpower her. For a moment Maina did not know what to do…but then she thundered, “Bhai jee..how dare you touch my daughter? Get off her, or I will chop your head off with my sickle.” Hearing her stern voice, he got off Tara; picked up his clothes; and ran to the other room. With trembling hands, Maina held Tara’s hand, dressed her up, and came outside. She knew what she had to do.

Naina was laying table for the dinner, and Sara was playing with her dolls. She had a male doll and a female doll in her hands, and she was talking to them. Naina smiled and blissfully watched her little doll playing with dolls. Sara was trying to get them close. Suddenly Naina’s smile turned into grave expression. Sara was telling them kiss each other, by putting their tongues into each other’s mouth. Naina took Sara into the corner. Conscious enough to not to show fear to the child, Naina asked her, “Sara!! Who told you that, baby?” Sara innocently said, “Promise me that you will not tell anyone!!” Naina said yes; Sara said, “Amit bhaiya told me… He has taught me to kiss…now he will tell me how to make babies also.” Naina’s heart stopped beating. She did not know what to do…if she made a scene out of it, Shekhar, her husband would come to know. This would affect his relations with Naina’s brother, who was Amit’s father. Amit’s father was Shekhar’s business mentor as well. Everything would get affected. For the financial well being of her family, she decided to keep mum. She consoled herself saying that “Afterall Amit is my nephew. In the end, blame would come on my parent’s family.”

From that day, Naina guarded Sara like her shadow. Everytime she would see Amit talking to Sara, her anger would rise. Sometimes, she felt like killing Amit; but could not say a word to him. She looked for an excuse to ask Amit leave their home, but could not find any ...her happiness and contentment was lost. She would remain tense, feel guilty, curse herself, and be worried all the time for her daughter. Rather she was getting paranoic about Sara...


Few Days Later:

When Ram Kishan came back from his village, and along came Maina with their kids. Naina was looking for a household help; so she employed Maina as her maid. When Maina met Naina for the first time, Naina could not help wonder about her frail body…Maina was so weak. After few weeks, when they were alone, Naina asked Maina why she had come to the city. Maina looked reluctant, but then opened up. She narrated the mishap with Tara. Naina’s heart missed a beat…how similar was the incident that happened to Sara.

Maina continued saying, "When I came to know about my daughter's incestuous rape, I went straight to the village chief and called Panchayat. In front of entire village, I accused my brother-in-law of raping my daughter. Police was called and my brother-in-law was arrested. Due to the incident, my mother-in-law threw me and my kids out of her home. When Ram Kishan came to know about the incident he rushed back to village; met the elderly people of the village who asked him to accept me and Tara with due respect. So we came with him to the city." Naina was surprised. She looked at Maina and asked, “Are you not scared of consequences? What about your daughter's honour, her name?" Maina gave a thought to the question and said, “I have two daughters. Had I kept silent about the rape, he would have raped my other daughter as well. And he himself has a daughter. If he did not spare his brother's daughter, he wouldn’t have spared his own daughter either. This way I have saved my other daughters as well. Nothing is more important than the safety of my children. So far as Tara is concerned, I will try getting her married in city itself. But I am happy that that animal is behind bars."

The determined look in Maina's eyes brought an ashamed look in Naina's face. She felt very small in front of Maina’s frail personality. Naina repented the fact that she spared her child's molester for trivial reasons. But not anymore!!! Naina knew what she had to do…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Reluctant Bride

Everyone in her home was happy. Women busy cluttering crockery in the kitchen, men busy discussing finances in the living room, and kids running across the house. Well everyone was happy except her, despite the fact that it was her marriage that had infused such liveliness in her home.

It was almost so sudden. Naina had just come back from a vacation, when her mom had told her that a family is coming over for dinner, to meet her. Naina had almost shouted in protest. The prospective groom, Gautam, was a fine looking guy. But Naina was too angry to even give him a look. She silently waited for the evening to pass away; and prayed reverently that he disapproves her. But as it was destined to be; he said yes. They requested early marriage, and her parents heartily approved.

Its not that, Naina did not protest at home. When she protested, her parents asked her, “why are you rejecting Gautam? He is educated, well-settled, and good looking as well.”, “Is there someone else? If there is, tell me now. ” Naina had no answer these questions, even though there was someone else…a guy whom she had once seen in the college fest. It was love at first sight for Naina…since then she had dreamt of marrying him. The only problem was that after that fest, Naina had never ever seen that boy again. She did not even know his name. So how she could tell her parents about him? Naina was in a fix…there was no one who could ever understand her.

Today was the day of her marriage; but happiness was miles away from her. Since adolescence she had dreamt her wedding; but when the day came her dream boy was not there. The day she saw him, she had never ever thought of anyone else. She thought about him all the day; and dreamt of him during the night. Naina cried desperately, “Godd!! Why did I have to fall in love with a person whom I could never meet again?”

Naina was ready as a bride. She glanced at the mirror…she made a beautiful bride. When her mom came to take her, Naina closed her eyes and thought about her dreamboy and silently said Goodbye to him. Like any bride would do, Naina lowered her eyes while walking upto the stage. But unlike any bride, she had anger and disappointment in her eyes. After exchanging garlands, she and Gautam were made to sit. People around them were dancing …but Naina was very uncomfortable…and then suddenly she saw him. Yeah it was him ,., he was dancing among the group of boys. Naina saw him an eyeful. For so many months, she had waited to see this face. He was so tall and good looking…like Greek God. The flash of cameras brought her to present. She realized that she was someone else’s now. A silent tear trickled down Naina’s cheeks.

Naina’s marriage solemnized smoothly. It was the time to leave her parents home. Naina cried like a child. She did not want to go…wanted time to go back and make her small enough to hide in her mother’s lap. But she had to go…On her way to Gautam’s home, she was crying uncontrollably in the car. Gautam tried to console her on the way and tried his best to make her feel comfortable. Naina’s agony was increased by the fact that her dream man was sitting in the same car as theirs; but alas on the wrong seat. His name was Shekhar and he was the best pal of Gautam.

Naina was sitting in her new bedroom. The room had been decorated with flowers and fragrance, which came as a cruel reminder to her about her new life and the fact that she would be expected to give herself to a stranger. She had decided that she would not let Gautam touch her. She had met the man of her dreams…and that she could not love anybody else. She would rather die than sleeping with a stranger. Suddenly Gautam entered the room; and Naina jerkily stood up from the bed. She was tensed up and her hand curled up in a fist. There was an awkward silence; when Gautam told her to sit down. Gautam had a deep voice and his posture was very calm and confident. He went to wash room and changed into his nightsuit. Very coolly he told her to get comfortable. After settling down, Gautam came and sat besides Naina and said, “Naina, welcome to my life!! I know it was too quick and we haven’t had any chance to know each other….but you know that’s how destiny had for us. But now we have time to know each other. Before we embark upon our journey together, lets try and be friends first. Unless we are good friends, we cannot be good spouses. More than being your husband, I want to be your life partner. I feel your awkwardness, and don’t want to impose myself on you. I will wait for the day when you come to me and say that you love me; you will always find me with open arms.” He then took her hand and kissed it lightly. And then he said, “You must be tired. We will talk tomorrow. Sleep well dear.” Naina was dumbfounded … slowly she lied down next to Gautam. How and when did Gautam hear her heart’s voice, she wondered…But she felt a sense of relief…She was tired and took seconds to doze off to sleep.

Next few days, every night Gautam and Naina talked about each other. Naina opened up to Gautam. Every night they would talk about their life, education, friends, and aspirations; but would sleep apart. On their honeymoon too, Gautam never approached her. Yet she could always feel his loving eyes on her. She knew he yearned for her; but she always chose to ignore it. She liked Gautam; but when it came to love, Shekhar’s face would smile in her thoughts. Naina would watch her marriage CDs over and over again, to watch Shekhar. Sometimes she would imagine how life would have been, had she married Shekhar. She asked Gautam a few questions about Shekhar, subtly enough to avoid suspicions.

One evening Gautam called her to get ready for a party. His office mates had thrown a dinner party for them. The moment they entered the room, everyone encircled them and starting clapping for them. Naina was flustered with the attention and respect that was being showered on them. Slowly, she realized it was all due to Gautam. They all loved him immensely. Gautam started introducing her to everyone. His bosses hugged him and talked highly about him. Gautam gelled in any group and dominated the conversation. His knowledge showed in his observations and comments. For a moment, Naina could feel pride and happiness welling inside her. She felt so proud of Gautam. She was observing him intently, when a strange hand touched her shoulder. Naina turned back to find Shekhar smiling at her. Naina’s heart skipped a beat; she could not believe it was him. She greeted him; moments later she observed that Shekhar was drunk and had not taken off his hand from her shoulder and was gradually pressing her shoulder with more force. Naina’s smile faded into anxiety and she looked for Gautam amidst the crowd. Gautam saw her anxious face from a distance, and rushed towards her. He politely took Shekhar away and gestured Naina to calm down. Once Shekhar was gone, Gautam apologized to her on Shekhar’s behalf. He told her that Shekhar was not in his senses; otherwise would never have misbehaved with her. After that Gautam did not leave her side for a moment.

That evening Gautam took Naina to the dance floor. He danced very well; suddenly he brought her close. Naina could feel strange energy coming out of his body. She became acutely aware of his sexuality and when she looked up at his face, she found him quite handsome. For some time she just wanted to keep looking at him; but when Gautam looked at her quizzingly, she looked away. That whole night, Naina could not think about Shekhar; everytime she thought about him, the moment on the dancing floor would come back to her. And she was confused as well: Was Shekhar really like that? Did he deliberately trouble her? Was he a chronic alcoholic?

After a few days, Gautam told Naina that Shekhar had invited them for dinner. Strangely enough Naina was not very happy. She tried to shrug off the memories of that day; but they kept coming back to confuse her. But by the evening Naina convinced herself to give him another chance. In the evening, Naina took extra care to dress herself. She could feel Gautam’s appreciative glances; but that day, for the first time, she spotted a look of sadness in his eyes. He was depressed…for a moment her heart went out to him. She knew, it was over a month now since they got married, but the distance amongst them were the same. A guilty feeling gnawed her heart; but she again chose to ignore it. All she thought about was Shekhar. When they reached Shekhar’s apartment, she was impressed by the place wherein he lived. He welcomed them warmly. Shekhar had invited few more guests. Shekhar introduced her to Sara, his live-in girlfriend. Naina went blank, she had never realized the distances between her and Shekhar.

All evening Naina observed Sara. Sara was a pretty girl, who seemed to care a lot for Shekhar. But Shekhar was more interested in his drinks rather than his girl friend. At times he ignored Sara completely to flirt with his friends’ wife. Time and again he made few sexists comments too. “What an MCP” she wondered. While at the same time, Naina had complete attention from Gautam. By the end of the party, Shekhar was quite drunk, and was not in a condition to see them off. Sara, his girlfriend, apologized on his behalf.

For next few days, Gautam became very quiet. Deep in her hearts, Naina knew the reason for his aloofness; but could not gather herself to go near him. His silence was baffling her. Her inlaws had also observed his silence and asked her. Naina had no answer. When she asked him, he politely evaded answering the question. His response came down to monosyllables. Naina felt lonely and depressed. She had got used to talking and sharing with Gautam. She yearned to see him smile and be his normal self. Things became unbearable for her. One morning her patience snapped and she shouted at Gautam for not wearing the shirt that she had selected for him. Gautam did not say a word to her. He silently went to his office. The whole day Naina felt guilty; she wanted to say sorry to him. She planned a nice dinner for him, prepared all his favorite dishes. Naina eagerly waited for Gautam; but there was no sign of him. Urged by her mom-in-law, she tried calling him, but he was not reachable. Naina despaired; she called up his office. They told him that he had left a couple of hours before. Naina panicked; but she could hardly do anything. She desperately waited for Gautam to be back.

It was almost midnight but no sign of Gautam. And then the phone rang. It was a stranger on the other side, informing that Gautam has met with an accident and that he was admitted in a critical condition in local hospital. Naina heart stopped…she felt as if she would faint. She along with Gautam’s parents rushed to the hospital. Upon reaching hospital Naina rushed to the emergency room; saw Shekhar in a critical condition. He was unconscious and was being taken out from operation theatre. But Naina’s eyes were looking desperately for Gautam. And then she saw Gautam standing with the doctor; his shirt was stained with blood and had a bandage on his forehead. He was talking intently to the doctor. The moment Naina saw Gautam, she ran towards him. She clung to him tightly, and started crying. She was inconsolable. She thought about nothing – that it was a hospital, that her in-laws were there and the fact that it was Shekhar, whom she supposedly loved so much, was the one who was critically injured. She just knew that she had almost lost Gautam; but she still had him with her. Gautam smiled down at her; and took her to a corner to console her. He assured her that he was fine. It was Shekhar who was critically injured.

On the way back, Naina realized that her life was changed forever. She knew that she had fallen in love with Gautam and just could not afford to lose him. She wanted him more than anything else in her life. All the distance among them had vanished in one moment. That night when Gautam entered the room, Naina was waiting for him. She ran into his arms, and whispered “I love you dear,” in his ears.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Real love is letting a person be what he/she really is...

Naina had seen her parents as a couple...well she was an observant child..she saw her mother give up her career, health, and personal likings for her dad...Naina's dad always followed his heart, and her mother followed him. To some extent Naina was fine with it, but whenever she saw her mom hurt with someone that dad said or did, she resented him. But everytime her mother would say, "Its ok dear. I have to adapt myself as per him."

Naina grew up and got married to the guy of her parents' choice. She went in a joint family and from the first day she was forced to change herself....they started by changing her maiden name to Ritu. And then Naina's ordeal started. They expected her to wake up at times they got up, give up what they wanted her to give up, take up habits that they wanted her to take up, sit and stand as per their wishes, eat what they wanted her to eat, and worst of all meet her parents when they wanted her to meet. Naina was often taunted for her plain looks. Ten months after her wedding Naina was blessed with a daughter. Naina's mom-in-law made sure that little one was kept away from Naina. The little girl often cried for her mother, but Naina was not allowed to hold her child, till she completed her work. Naina felt claustrophobic but had no place to run. Her husband, Shekhar, understood her plight but was reluctant to take a stand for her.
Years went by and to their satisfaction Naina changed...her smile was gone, her beauty and youth gone, face lost all the shine and became dull, and she suffered from hypertension and depression. Yet her husband always expressed his love for her, even though the expression of love lasted not more than half an hour in night on weekly basis..

Then something happened that stirred Naina from her deep sleep. Well it so happened that one day Naina found a mid aged handsome man on her door. Naina came to know that he was Sagar, her husband's distant cousin. Naina's mom-in-law told her that he would stay with them for sometime as he had just returned from abroad and had yet not been alotted an official residence by his company. She curtly instructed Naina, "He is our guest. See to it that he is properly taken care of...and ask ur parents to not visit us for some days. Well he is a rich guy and might not find your parents presentable." Anger boiled inside Naina, but she couldnot say anything...knew it was futile. Her mom-in-law had done the damage she wanted to...and despite Naina's retorting back, her parents respect and dignity couldnot be restored.

That day when she was formally introduced to Sagar her mom-in-law said, "She is Ritu, our daughter in law...well earlier her name was Naina but we changed to Ritu."

When Naina served lunch Sagar called aloud, "Naina, come over. Join us all for lunch." Listening her own name after so many days made Naina jerk. And how could she join them for lunch...she always had lunch alone after serving food to everyone. She politely asked him to start and promised that she would join later, but he was adamant. Said he would wait. upon hearing this Shikha (shekhar's sister) reluctantly came over in kitchen and Naina hesitantly joined the whole family on the lunch table. That night when Naina lied down, she could hear the name Naina ringing in her ears. How much had she lost!! Even her own name and identity.

Sagar always called her Naina; he was perhaps the first person in the family who asked her about her passions. She told him about her love for music, and later that day Sagar shared his music CDs with her. He gave her his CD player to listen to, while she was working in the kitchen.

Music came as a blessing to Naina. She would listen to music while doing her household chores. Suddenly she found that she was relatively happier and seldom thought about negativities of her life. Her mother in law protested to her using Sagar’s CD player, but Sagar insisted that he had brought it for Naina only and that the CD player now belonged to Naina. He looked as good as an angel to her. Shekhar too observed that Naina was happy...but he mistook her happiness as her attraction towards Sagar and taunted her on the same. Naina could see the vaccum of their relationship...all these years she was in depression he husband trusted her and one day she decided to be happy he got insecure...guess he did not trust himself enough, she thought.

One day Shekhar came back home with a print out in his hand. It was his appraisal form, and he wanted to fill it out with Sagar's help. While working on the appraisal form, they were struggling to find right words. Naina was just passing by, and prompted them with a phrase that befitted their requirement. Sagar was surprised with her ability to find just the right words to express complex ideas. Next day, Sagar brought a laptop home and gave it to Naina. He told her that he had purchased a new laptop and she could have the older one. Naina could see it was a used laptop and was assured that he was telling the truth.

Then started Naina's relationship with computer. She would finish off her houshold chores quickly and get on with exploring the PC. Sagar gave her few topics to write on, and after three-four revisions the write up was as good as to be published. Naina's health started improving, as she experienced an influx of energy and positivism in herself. Encouraged by Sagar, Naina took up work from home opportunity for writers. Within few months, Naina had tie ups with numerous firms within the city. After so many years, Naina felt she was alive. Its not that her family had changed - they were the same- who resisted improvements in her, always ready to deflate her spirit and enthusiasm. But now Naina had changed. She had risen from her comatoseness.

Shekhar always felt that there was something more than friendship between Naina and Sagar. But now Naina didnot care. Her priorities had changed. She recognized that she had a responsibility not only towards her family, but herself too. To some extent, she herself was also responsible for losing herself. Now that she found herself, she will not let go. Sagar, to Naina, would always be a guiding angel...who will always hold the place of a mentor in her heart.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Naina's homecoming

They could hear footsteps following them in the dark galley. The moment Shekhar stepped out of the cinema hall after the late show; he was repenting his decision to do so. Unable to find a cab, they started on foot and took the route via a dark and lonely road. And now someone was following them....Too scared, Shekhar didn't even look back. Calculating that the people following them must be two or three, he quickened his steps pulling his two companions, his wife Naina and his younger sister Shikha.

Naina was so scared that she could hardly breathe. It was dark, and she held Shekhar's hands very tightly. She knew Shikha had also done the same. Suddenly four men pounced on them. They had targeted Shikha. They were trying to pull her into their van. Shekhar tried to save Shikha and Naina was shouting for help…There were few houses in that galley but no body even bothered to look outside, let alone open their doors and help them.

Suddenly one of them hit Shekhar with a rod on the back of his head. He lost his balance and fell on ground...watching helplessly as his sister was being molested by attackers. Naina ran up to those guys to offer her jewellery instead. They hit Naina to push her aside. Exasperated she asked what they really wanted...one of them said a woman. Hearing their words, Shikha started howling…she frantically tried to free herself and then she started calling Naina "Bhabhee, please help me…don’t let them take me away. I beg you, they will kill me. "

Naina was stunned. She begged them to leave Shikha, but they kept on pulling her into their van. Desperate Naina looked upto Shekhar for help, but he was too injured to help. She realized that she had to do something to save Shikha. She had to be saved, otherwise she would lead all her life scarred by this incident; and then who knows, whether she will ever get married. Naina drew a deep breath...glanced back at injured Shekhar, and told them to take her along instead of Shikha. Those guys gave quizzing look to each other. Shrugging they left Shikha, and took her along in their van.

For the next few hours, Naina was raped repeatedly. All the time she kept telling herself that they have her body, and not her heart and soul, and above all she is doing it for her love her Shekhar...and the honour of his family. Tired, beaten and battered she lost consciousness.

When she woke up, she found herself in a filthy room of a semi built building. Tears rolled from her eyes as she tried to get up, but she staggered every time she tried to do so. Gathering every bit of her courage and strength, she got up and dragged herself out the building. It was early morning now. Bleeding very badly, she managed to reach the main road. Cars swooshed by, but no one bothered to stop. She walked a little distance, and then fell down losing balance.

A car stopped by, and an elderly couple got down. Naina could see two blurred faces looking down to her and discussing whether she should be taken to the hospital. Eventually they called the Police and took her to the hospital. When Naina gained consciousness, the cops had come over for the enquiry. Naina reported the entire episode to them. She requested the Police inspector to inform her husband about her whereabouts. He promised to do the same and left.

Naina was in a bad shape. Her body was battered, and her soul was completely bruised. Tears would not stop, and every time she closed her eyes she would see the faces of the rapists... they had turned her life upside down. The elderly couple who brought her to hospital turned out to be real angels; they were always there by her side to take care of her. They took care of her as if she was their own daughter. But Naina was eagerly waiting for Shekhar. She knew he will rush to the hospital once he hears about her...but somehow there was no sign of Shekhar. She kept wondering "Why didn't he come over? He must have got hurt very badly."

She spent next few days in the hospital, recuperating from the physical and mental injuries that she sustained from the incident. The only solace she got was from the thought that she saved Shikha. Naina promised herself that she wouldn't ever let Shikha feel responsible for this mishap. All these years Naina had loved Shikha like her own daughter; and any mother would do the same for her daughter.

After much counseling from the doctors and the elderly couple she prepared herself to start her life anew. She knew she had Shekhar with her. They would soon leave the dark memories of that fateful day behind, and start a new phase of life.

When she was discharged from hospital, the elderly couple gave her the lift back home. The moment she saw her home, her spirits lifted but her eyes dampened. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she silently pressed the hands of her savior angels to thank them for their care and help, and entered the gate of her home.

She knocked the door. Shikha opened the door. With tears in her eyes Naina opened her arms out to her, but found Shikha turn her back at her. Without letting her in, Shikha called Shekhar. Naina was relieved to see Shekhar in a fine condition. When Shekhar came over, Naina rushed towards him. But he stretched out his hand, stopping her from entering the home. Naina was aghast. She realized that she was no longer welcome in Shekhar’s home and life.

Before she could apprehend anything...Shikha slammed the door at her face. Naina stood there still. She could feel the world spinning around her.