The Arranged Love Marriage

“Madam, I have draped the sari like mermaid! It is giving you very young and slim look!” The beautician bent down to fix Bittu Kumari’s sari pleats, pleased with her work.

“I am young! I am 26!” Bittu Kumari frowned.

“Oh! I thought you must be in 30’s! Was wondering why you are still bachelor!”

“I am not! A bachelor is a man who is not…”

“Bittu, you are still not ready! The boy’s family has arrived!” Bittu Kumari’s mother stormed into the room. She looked at her daughter from head to toe. “Shabnam, I had asked you to make her look thin!” she said disappointed.

“Aunty Ji, I have given her slim look only! This is mermaid style sari! My world-famous style in Saharanpur! She is little healthy no, what can I do!”

“Leave it! No time now!”

Bittu Kumari was dragged to the living room.  A lean, dark, young man, his mother, father and possibly his brother who looked like a rounder replica of him were seated on the three-seater sofa.  Opposite to them, were Bittu Kumari’s father – Mr. Mishra, and his teenaged son, Sonuraj. Mrs. Mishra’s sister and husband had also been invited for moral support. Bittu Kumari sat next to her brother.

“Mr. Pandey, this is my daughter, Bittu Kumari! She has completed M.A. in English literature.  She teaches English in St. Mary’s high school! Convent! And herself educated in English medium convent! Throughout topper!” added the proud father.

“That is great!” said Mr. Pandey with an approving nod. “Lallan also wanted to do B.Com. But after Matric he joined my business. He completed PUC through correspondence.”

Sonuraj giggled. Bittu Kumari was horrified. She looked up to confirm if she had heard correctly. Her eyes met Lallan’s. Lallan smiled at her, beaming.

“All that is okay! Doesn’t matter!” Mrs. Pandey seemed to have read Bittu Kumari’s thoughts. “For a boy, what matters is how well he is earning. Our business is flourishing. Lallan is handling it single-handedly now! And what matters for a girl is how she looks!” She paused, giving a sharp stare at Bittu Kumari’s bulging stomach which Shabnam’s Rs 1500 mermaid style draping could not hide. “My elder daughter-in-law Chhaya is so pretty! Even after having two daughters, she has maintained herself like a stick!”

Bittu Kumari raised her head again to look at Lallan’s brother’s paunch, trying to imagine him with his stick-like wife.

What does Chaaya do?” asked Mr. Mishra, visibly annoyed.

She is a housewife!” Mr. Pandey stepped in. “We wanted a working girl for Lallan. Actually, we wanted a housewife. But Lallan wanted a working girl.”

Lallan blushed.

“Working, not working is not main criteria! We want a fair, slim, beautiful girl.” Mrs. Pandey clarified. “Your daughter is very healthy. At this age, she is healthy! After a child, she will bloat even more!”

Mrs. Mishra shifted in her chair uncomfortably. Her fear came true. This was the fifth time the boy’ side had rejected her daughter for being “healthy”.  This time, Bittu Kumari did not look up. The words seemed to have pierced through her heart and created a hole. How is it possible that for all these years, she had heard it all – healthy, fat, moti, bhais, elephant, yet it hurt her each time? Shouldn’t she be immuned by now?

“Mrs. Pandey, I think you should let Lallan and Bittu Kumari talk once. They are the ones who have to get married! Let them decide.”

“We would have let them talk, Mr. Mishra. We are very modern. That is why we got Lallan. He was keen on your daughter’s profile. But… sorry to say your daughter looks nothing like her pictures. You must have edited them and sent to us. She seems 20 kg more than we had expected!”

Mr. Mishra looked at his wife accusingly. She had gone to the biggest studio in town to get her daughter’s pictures photoshopped. What was she supposed to do?  Those who saw Bittu Kumari’s real pictures rejected her even before meeting her. She had to give her daughter a fair chance!

“If she was slightly healthy also, we would have tried to adjust. But she is obese! Young girls exercise! She is probably lazy too! Or maybe she has some illness. And moreover, daughter-in-law’s beauty determines the looks of the children also. If we get an obese daughter-in-law, she will give birth to obese daughters, and then we will have to worry about their marriage also!”

“Whoa Aunty, you have gone too far!” Bittu Kumari finally spoke up.  “Who said I wanted to marry your son!”

“What! Then why did you all call us!” Mrs. Pandey frowned.

“We were deceived too! We thought your son had completed B-Com. But now we know he never went to college. I did not know I was signing up for a college dropout! Just like you did not know you were signing up for a fat daughter-in-law. But you know what Aunty, fat women make completely decent homemakers. Look at you!”

“Such a shameless girl! Doesn’t know how to talk to elders! And I am fat now! When I was your age, I looked just like Hema Malini! Come Lallan, let us go.” Mrs. Pandey got up, grabbing her son’s hand. Her elder son and husband also got up almost in a reflex. “We don’t need a fat and proudy girl.”

“It is proud Aunty, not proudy!”

Lallan looked at Bittu Kumari. He paused. He wanted to say something. But his mother pulled him away.

And just like that, the entire Pandey family was gone. Mr. Mishra put his hand on her daughter’s head and smiled. “Bittu beta, we don’t need them! You are a diamond. These people don’t know your worth.” Mrs. Mishra went back to the bedroom to pay Shabnam who was locked up in the bedroom, waiting for the boy’s side to leave. Mrs. Mishra’s sister and brother-in-law left rather unceremoniously. Everything went back to normal.

Two days later, Bittu Kumari received a text message.

‘Hi Bittu Ji. I am sorry for finding your number. Got it from the school.  I am sorry for the way my mother talked to you. I know how you must have felt. Four girls have rejected me because I am dark! One was educated and English-speaking, and did not want someone like me. I know my profile says that I have done B.com. If talks would have progressed, I would have told you the truth. My brother had edited my profile so that people at least express interest. I may not be that educated, but I do manage to run my business well. I may not be good-looking, but if you give me a chance I will take care of you. I know what it is like when people judge you without getting to know you. I really liked you. Would like to be friends with you, if it is okay with you.”

Bittu Kumari was shocked. No man had ever showed such interest in her. Without telling their parents, Bittu Kumari and Lallan started chatting. Bittu Kumari realized that Lallan was no different from her. He was also looking for a decent partner, while struggling with his own insecurities, and cruel judgment of random people. He was running a growing business, with hard-work and sincerity. He was not as stupid as she had expected. Rather, he was quite intuitive and witty. He was also very sensitive and mature. She grew quite fond of him.

Bittu Rani and Lallan have decided to get married. Mr. Mishra is insisting that Lallan completes B.Com from distant learning. Mrs. Pandey has agreed provided Bittu Kumari loses 10 kgs. Mr. Pandey is happy for the children. Sonuraj is preparing a solo dance performance for the wedding.

Mrs. Mishra is grateful. To Shabnam. And to the photographer.

Image source

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because It Was Real

Inspector Annirudh addressed the media exactly 120 days after the murder of D.M. Amarkanth.

“Sir, Mr. Amarkanth’s family has demanded a CBI probe. They are not satisfied with the investigation,” asked a reporter shoving a microphone into Annirudh’s face.

“Bangalore police has already solved the case. We have nabbed the murderer! What is the CBI going to do!” Annirudh replied. Not a sign of doubt on his face or his voice.

“But Sir, Amarkanth’s family is alleging that the picture was planted! He was never in a relationship with Kavya Roy!” The reporter asked again, refusing to give up.

That is the problem with this country! You cannot accept it when the police is doing their job. Kavya Roy was having an affair with Amarkanth. Kavya’s husband, Naveen found out and shot Amarkanth. The case is solved. There is nothing left for you to complain about. It is an open and shut case!”

Aniruddh ignored the sea of reporters, and multiple flashes of camera aiming at his face.

There was a sea of reporters at another house as well.  The residence of retired Lieutenant General Naveen Roy. Not many outside the fraternity were aware that Naveen Roy had not sought a voluntary retirement from the army. He had been dismissed following a brawl which had resulted in a fellow Officer’s broken jaw. This incident had come to light thanks to media’s extensive research on Naveen Roy, once he became the prime accused in the murder case of D.M. Amarkanth. The victim of the brawl had testified against Mr. Roy, and swore about his rage issues. Among the other witnesses was a doctor who had once treated Mrs. Roy. His five-minute interview had been viral on the internet for some time.

“I had met Mrs. Kavya Roy in October 2013. The skin of her nose was punctured. A blood clot had formed in the septum. It had created a perforation in the septum.  She was in a lot of pain. I had suggested that she report this to the police as it was a case of domestic violence. But she had refused.”

“And how do you know it was her husband who had hurt her? Did she say it was him?”

“I have been practicing for the past 25 years. I can tell what the patients try to hide. 90 percent of the women who come to me with injuries have been assaulted by a husband or boyfriend. This is the global statistic as well.”

“And why had you not reported it to the police? Was it not your responsibility?”

“My job is to heal the wound which is what I did. She was nervous and scared. I referred her to a female counsellor from my hospital.  I thought she would be more comfortable talking to a woman.”

“Did she visit her?”

“I am not aware.”

“What was the name of that counsellor?”

“Anjana Awasthi.”

Anjana Awasthi was a 55-year-old therapist with a master’s degree in psychology. Anjana’s life was quite mundane. She had spent the first 20 years of her married life raising her two sons. When the younger one left for college, she felt a void so strong that she was convinced she would not be able to survive the loneliness. One of her friends suggested that it was time she utilized her educational degrees. Even though she had not worked before, her empathetic face, her kind smile and grey hair gave her incredible credibility. It compensated for her lack of experience. Her patients connected with her instantly. They confided in her their deepest, darkest secrets.

One morning, Anjana had an appointment with a beautiful woman by the name, Kavya Roy. Kavya was not like other patients. When other patients came to Anjana, they came with a problem. They expected solutions. But Kavya was very resilient. She had accepted her fate. She never cried. She never made any plans. She did not discuss the future.  She did not ask for advice.  She just wanted somebody to talk to. She was a lonely woman who paid Rs 2,000 an hour to speak to someone.  

When Inspector Annirudh approached Anjana for an interview, her husband was reluctant. He said she did not need to get involved in a murder case. But Anjana had never seen any drama in her life. How could she resist this one opportunity?

Anjana was also upset because she did not like the way the media was building a negative image of Kavya. She wanted to put an end to all speculations.

“Was Kavya Roy mentally ii?”

“No!”

“Then why was she consulting you, Ms. Awasthi?”

“Not all people who come to me are necessarily mentally unstable. But I help them see their problems in a way in which they can work them out themselves.”

“So, what were her problems?”

“I am not allowed to share confidential information about my clients. It would be breach of trust!”

“This is a murder case madam! Not cooperating could result in severe consequences for you. We would need access to her file.”

“What is it that you need to know? She had nothing to do with the murder!”

“How do you know that?”

“Because she loved that man! More than her life. She could never hurt him! Her husband found out about the affair, and killed Amarkanth in a moment of rage.”

“How can you be so sure? She did not mind committing adultery! Maybe things got inconvenient. So, she and her husband plotted the murder together.”

“You cannot blame her for the affair. Naveen was awful to her! He hit her. He forced himself on her! He was toxic. She was so unhappy. She had nowhere to go to. Her parents were no more. She was scared to leave Naveen. Amarkanth was the first man in her life who treated her well. He loved her.”

“If he loved her, why did he send a picture of theirs to her husband? Was he trying to blackmail her for money? Doesn’t make sense because he was a rich guy! Or was she trying to end the relationship, so he sent the picture for revenge?”

“I do not know why he did that. Kavya had stopped seeing me three months before the murder. I don’t know what transpired between them during that time.”

“Do you remember the last visit of hers?”

“Yes. She had said she would talk to Amarkanth about getting married.”

“And what did he say?”

“Like I said, I have no idea. That was her last appointment.”

“Do you maintain notes of the sessions?”

“I have the recordings.”

Inspector Annirudh was due for a promotion this year. When he was assigned the case of the murder of D.M. Amarkanth, he knew it would be huge. Amarkanth was a well-known, high profile real-estate developer. His murder had created a public outrage. Initially, Annirudh had thought this must be about a business deal gone wrong. It was only when the IT team cracked Amarkanth’s laptop, and email passwords did he come across the email. The email was sent from Amarkanth to Naveen with a picture of Amarkanth and Kavya together. Naveen saw the picture, got infuriated, took his gun, went to Amarkanth’s house and shot him. A no-leads case had turned into an open and shut case overnight. He would definitely get the promotion for solving this one.

These women, he thought!  They have always caused wars! Look at the Mahabharata for instance! Annirudh had decided he would never get married. Although the case was almost closed, Annirudh decided to listen to one of the recordings of Kavya’ s sessions with Ms. Awasthi, just to understand what was going on in that twisted, cheating woman’s head.

I had got married to Naveen when I was 22. I did not know any life beyond him.  I had accepted my life. Not everybody is destined to be happy. I would tell myself.

Until I met Amar. He was a dream come true. He was nice. He was kind. He was gentle, and sensitive. I was a different person when I was with him. I was happy! I could not thank the stars enough for having met him! How did I get so lucky? He was the best thing to happen to me. My life was an unanswered question so far. No direction. No purpose. Now I know why everything ever happened to me. It all made sense. It was all a plan to make me meet him. It was all worth it. All the pain that I suffered. He made it all right.  I never knew my wounds were worth fixing. But he fixed them!”

Annirudh stopped the tape right there. He could not take it anymore. What non-sense! What a  confused, helpless woman! Why couldn’t she just get a job, and leave her husband! Why did she need another man to fix her! She had ruined the lives of two men! One is dead. One in in jail!

Annirudh had later arrested Naveen for questioning. After a third-degree torture, Naveen had confessed to the crime. The gun was also recovered as evidence. Motive, evidence and a confession! This was a stellar performance by Annirudh! Naveen was sentenced, although his lawyers had appealed the case. The trial would take years.  Annirudh was promoted. He had earned it! It all worked out fine.  Justice was neither denied, nor delayed. For everyone.

One year later:

Kavya’s journal

There is peace in the house.  It is nice not having Naveen around. Sometimes I wonder have my ears stopped functioning altogether? Or is there actually so much of silence? Life without Naveen’s yelling and abuses has probably made me deaf.

It is strange that I miss Naveen.  I miss Amar too.

I remember the day we had taken that picture. I was in Amar’s bed. In his arms. I was giggling. Smiling. Laughing. Smile please, I had said.

“Why are you taking a picture like this! Your husband will find out and kill both of us!”

“It is just a shot of our faces! Not a revealing picture!”

“The look on our face gives it all away, baby!”

And then he had kissed me.

That was a beautiful day. And then came another day. When I asked Amar when he would be marrying me. Somewhere in my heart I knew he was not ready for my marriage. Divorce would have taken time too. But I had never thought he will say this:

“What! What are you saying! I never promised to marry you!”

I cried. I begged. “Why were you with me if you did not want to be with me?”

“You are a consenting adult, Kavya! Don’t act like you are a child and I fooled you into anything!”

“I love you. Please. Don’t do this!”

“Come on. You don’t do this Kavya !  Don’t tell me you got so attached to me in three months! Now I am scared! Let us not see each other anymore!”

I had never deleted that picture. I knew it was a risk. What if Naveen found out? But the times that Amar was not with me, I could look at that picture. It made me feel good. It was all I had left of him. Especially that day when Amar denied our relationship. He invalidated me. He could have said that he did not want to marry me. Or that he is done with me! But he did not! He refused to acknowledge my feelings. He made me feel like a crazy woman. A crazy woman who was crazy about a man who did not want anything to do with her. He ruined everything.

 Amar was what made me real. Without him I was hollow. He was not imaginary! The world had to know that I existed. Our love existed.

I knew Amar’s email password. I did. Because I was his girlfriend. I was the love of his life. And now everyone would know.

From: Amarkanth.dm@gmail.com

To: Naveenroy@gmail.com

Sent.

I think there are two types of men in this world. One like Naveen. Chauvinistic, abusive, aggressive. The other like Amar. Caring, kind, gentle. Soft. Soft and weak.

Who is worse?

Sorry Amar. But I could not let our love die like it never existed. Sorry Naveen. But I wanted you to know I was capable of being loved.

And now Amar is gone! Naveen is also gone. The two men in my life… One scarred my body. One scarred my soul.

I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So, all I can tell you is why he was murdered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistake Or Crime?

This story is set in the year 2009.

***

“So, you willingly emailed your private picture to Vicky? The pot-bellied Officer asked Ria with a smirk. Mr. and Mehta bowed their head down in shame.

“Umm…I had just sent it to Vicky on yahoo messenger…. He sent it to Rishi. Rishi sent it to Ashir…. No not Ashir, Yash”. Ria paused and looked at the ceiling. She closed her eyes and recollected, “Yash mailed it to a group of boys from our school including Ashir. One of the guys from that group created a fake profile on Orkut and uploaded it! Someone saw it another site also.” Ria struggled to look at the Officer in the eye. “That is what Vicky said. He thinks it is Ashir.”

“It is a chain accident! Abhi highway pe hua tha na,” The officer looked at his colleague and laughed. “Ab woh sab chod kar madam ka photo dhoondo! These teenagers have all the fun. Then blame the police! Kaam hamara badhta hai!”

“Sir please do something.” Mrs. Mehta pleaded, her voice coarse from crying.

“Madam, here. Please go to the cyber cell with a copy of this FIR.”

The ride home was dreadful. Nobody spoke. As the Mehtas reached home, Ria’s Dadi was waiting for them.

“Tea is ready! I will get some biscuits for Riya. My poor baby must be hungry! I have made…”

“She is not a poor baby Mummy!” Mr. Mehta interrupted.  She is a stupid, shameless girl. She has made a joke of our reputation. Now her whole life is ruined!”

“What are you saying! Don’t talk like that,” Dadi growled. “She is 17! She has a long life ahead! One thing will not ruin it!”

“It will Mummy!” Mrs. Mehta broke down. “All her classmates have seen it. It is on the internet! We gave her the best childhood. Best toys. Best vacations. Best school! And this is how she repaid us! Everyone is laughing at us! Who will marry this girl with no morals and no sense! I can’t believe she is MY child!”

Ria stormed out of the room in tears and locked herself. Dadi looked at Mrs. Mehta.

“How can you be so harsh, Janice! It is a difficult time for her. She needs support! What if she does something to herself?

“Mummy, you know I have always supported her.  Remember, when she was selected for that competition in Singapore, she was only 13! All parents were worried about sending their children abroad. But I was not! I always trusted her. She was so sensible! But today, I have failed as a mother! What kind of a girl sends such a picture! A class topper can be so something like this?

“Janice, you and I would not know. In our times, we did not have computers and mobile-phones! These kids have access to everything. They make poor judgment in peer pressure. If we had all those things in our times, who knows we would have done something stupid too!”

“I can’t believe it Mummy. You are supporting her!”

“I supported you too! You and my son eloped to get married! Papa had initially objected to your marriage. If Jaymin had given me time, I would have convinced him.  But you guys ran away before that! People had laughed at me too. They had said you stole my son from me. But I accepted you with open arms. You both were important to me. Not random people who have nothing better to do than talk!”

“That was different, Mummy! How can you compare!”

“It is the same Beta. I supported my children then. I am supporting them now. You have to do the same. She is your child. She has not hurt or harmed anyone. She trusted someone. She made a mistake, not a crime. Now go, solve this problem.”

“I don’t have any strength Mummy. I am broken. I can’t believe this is happening to my child. I am tired!” Janice put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes.

“This is not about you. This is about justice! Think about Ria. And other girls who become victims of such crimes. They are victims of their own judgment to some extent. Don’t you think that boy should get traced? His parents should not feel ashamed that they did not teach the right values to their son? Is it only your daughter who did something wrong?

“We may not even be able to trace it! God knows where you all he has put it! Internet is a very vast place Mummy. It is like… like so many websites..I don’t know how to explain to you!”

“Then all the more reasons to fight. We should have better laws to protect our girls from technology! Stop crying. And I do know about internet! Mrs. Shukla’s daughter, Anuradha is a lawyer. Talk to her. She will suggest something. They will take the computers of all the children and hack into their accounts. They can locate the IT address. They do these things. They will know! They can even create fake account and try to frame the boy!”

“It is not IT address! It is IP address. And how do you know so much Mummy!!”

“I watch Crime Patrol! Now go! Get to work. Time to be a parent. Protect your child. And make sure you fight so hard that those kids never do this to anyone ever again!”

The Mehtas got in touch with Anuradha. Anuradha worked hard on the case. It took time, but the cyber cell managed to remove the pictures. The uploader was traced. It was a 15-year-old boy from Ria’s school. His parents apologized to the Mehtas, and begged them to not take the case further.

Since he was a minor, the Mehtas decided that they should forgive him and move on. Moving on was important for their peace, and Ria’s peace also.

What was important was to teach the right values. All the kids involved were in an impressionable age. The school took the responsibility of counselling them about cyber vulnerability and creating awareness. They held workshops for both girls and boys on how one moment of thrill for them could have grave consequences. Was it worth the risk?

Ria’s case was a starting point for Anuradha. She was herself a mother of two daughters. She felt that the laws need to be reformed to keep up with the technological threats. She continued to specialize in cyber law cases. There were still so many loopholes in the laws. When the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 was passed to consider voyeurism as an offence, she felt a certain sense of achievement.

Ria is doing well now. With the support of her mother, Dadi and professional counseling, she was able to put the trauma past her and focus on her future. She graduated from a well-known law school.

On her graduation day, she was awarded valedictorian of the class.

She started her acceptance speech with a quote by Benjamin Franklin:

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Extraordinary Strength of Ordinary Women

This story has been written for the Warrior Women Blogathon, for which it was selected as one of the winning entries. 

Daksha boarded the train sharp at 11 am. The journey from Valsad to Mumbai may have been only five hours. But for Daksha it was not merely a journey. It was years of rebellion finally paying off.

Since Daksha had turned 16, people had urged her to join her father’s tailoring shop. Something she detested!  Her dream was to write stories. And share them with the world. After completing a post graduate degree in mass communication, she had started applying for jobs in Mumbai. She attended a workshop organized by a start-up publication called ‘Athena – The Inspirational Women’ the last time she had visited Mumbai. They had told her that they needed passionate people like her. But her English was not up to mark. However, she managed to secure a onetime paid assignment to pitch a story about an inspiring woman.

People had said all sort of things:

You have never left Valsad! How will you manage to live in such a big city?

The city always floods!

How can you become a content writer when your English is not that great!

Who gets paid to write stories anyway!

But Daksha was not afraid. She had the hunger to prove herself. If only she could find a famous woman to interview…

“Myself – Daksha Shah.” She said to a middle-aged lady, the only other woman in the compartment after adjusting her luggage under the berth. “Last time I went to Mumbai, all gents only! This time good company!”

The lady shook her hand, and smiled politely.  Daksha had read enough books on how to become a strong, successful woman. All the books talked about networking. Daksha took networking very seriously. Even if she was in a train with strangers.

 “Aunty, I am going for job! If I get, my office would be at Nariman Point. I have found a PG in Dadar. Dadar to Churchgate I can take local train!”

Aunty nodded.

“I am first girl in my family to go to Mumbai! All girls, either get married or join parents’ business. But I wanted to be independent!”

Aunty smiled as Daksha continued.

Daksha was trying to put a brave face.  But deep down she was scared and unsure of herself. She had borrowed money from her parents to sustain herself without a job.  She had fought with everyone. What if people made fun of her accent like those mean girls from the workshop?  The ones who had no idea in which century Rani Lakshmibai lived, yet they thought it was their birth right to ridicule her English? She had nobody to share her doubts with. How could she when they all believed she was making the biggest mistake of her life? She wanted someone to tell her she would be okay. She did not want to hear that she would fail.

Daksha switched on her laptop. She typed the title of her story.

‘Top 10 Sucessful Women of 2016’, she entered the title in a new Microsoft word document. The auto check corrected the spelling to successful.

Aunty was now sleeping, leaning on the window. She momentarily opened her eyes. Daksha could not resist.

“Aunty, I am feeling little bit scared. First time leaving home.  My English also not that good because I studied in Gujarati medium. But Aunty I am hard working. I know if I get good opportunity, I can do anything in life! But if I fail, people here will laugh at me. I want to be a successful, famous woman like Kiran Bedi!”

“Kiran Bedi did not dream of being famous dear! She worked hard and earned a name for herself.    Don’t dream of being famous. Figure out what makes you happy. Then just do it. If you are interested in your work, you will do well. You already have a goal. Go for it! Success will come over time! There is no such thing as failure. It is sad to see young people give up. Life is so big!”

“Yes, Aunty! But I always have this craze to meet some great lady like Neerja Bhanot or Kalpana Chawla. She was greatest woman of India!  Why she died so young!”

Yes Beta, if only someone could answer that question. Why do people die before their time? People say everything happens for good. But what good justifies death of children before the eyes of their parents? Good, kind children. Who just wanted to do well in life. And they would have. Had they been…”

Aunty paused. This was the longest that she had spoken. Daksha did not know what to say next. She looked back at her article.  She already had a list of women she wanted to interview – successful women from the field of finance, journalism, fashion technology etc.

“Aunty you know any strong, famous women? I want to interview!”

“I know a lot of strong women. But they may not be famous!”

“Oh like who? I mean if not CFO of company, even VP will do.”

“I am afraid I don’t know any such women! But I do know a lot of strong women!”

“But what they have done! Good enough to write story on them?”

“Maybe not an interesting story you are looking for. But everybody has a story to tell. People become strong when they face some circumstances in life they were not prepared for. Everybody has struggles. The way we deal with it matters.”

 “Aunty you have met any movie star? In Mumbai, it must be common!”

“No!” Aunty replied with a laugh.  Daksha was disappointed.

The rest of the journey Daksha continued to write.  Mumbai station was about to reach.

People were removing their luggage and crowding around the exits. Daksha also pulled out her suit case.

“It was nice meeting you Beta.  Wish you the very best in life! Thank you for your company!”  

“Mention not Aunty! Daksha beamed, holding her luggage ready to move out.

“This is my card. Let me know if you ever need anything.”

Daksha did not have time to see the card now. She tucked it in her purse as she made her way out of the rush.

Few days later, Daksha got settled in her PG. She went to office of Athena to pitch a story line for a female Air Marshal she had met through her roommate who agreed to be interviewed.

Daksha was narrating the story line to the editor, when she opened her purse to remove a pen.  A visiting card dropped out. It read, ‘Mothers against suicide’.

Below was the contact number of Arundhati Biswas along with a helpline number.

“Are you interviewing her too?” The editor asked with excitement.

“Who!”

“Arundhati Biswas!”

It took Daksha some time to correlate that this card belonged to the Aunty she had met in the train.

“Is she famous? I have met her!” Daksha asked, the excitement now reflecting in her voice too.

“Well, not famous enough that everyone would know her.  But famous enough to be known in circles like ours.  She started a suicide helpline number after her 15-year-old committed suicide due to failing an exam. Initially, it was low key. Spread through word of mouth. But now she has a website that has grown. Lots of other bereaved mothers have joined. In extreme cases, she refers people to professional counsellors, therapists and psychiatrists. She conducts sessions for free in schools and colleges on bullying, dealing with heartbreak, grief counselling etc.  Pretty inspiring lady!”

Daksha was dumbfounded. She wished she had known this while she was travelling with Aunty. She got in touch with Arundhati for an interview without wasting any further time.

Arundhati told her about her ordeal.  How she lost her child because of a moment of weakness. How every day in the past ten years has been a struggle.  How she wishes she could go back in time. The first thought she has every morning is to go join her daughter, wherever she is. Yet, she manages to live every day, somehow in the hope that she could help someone else not go through the same pain.

Daksha ended the story with a quote referred to by Arundhati:

“Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy–all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.” – Cassandra ClareClockwork Angel

The editor had a hard time with Daksha’s mediocre writing. But she could not help being impressed with the content. The story was published. It became viral. Daksha attended an English course, as well as spoken English classes recommended by her editor over the next eight months following which she applied for a written exam with Athena. Within a year, she was hired as a full-time content writer.

Daksha now writes her own column in which she curates stories of women who have made a difference to somebody else’s life. She does not look for famous people anymore. Ordinary women may have extraordinary strength.  Her muses are now women she meets in the local train, who may be cutting vegetables oblivious to the fact that they may be heroes in their own way.

One of the stories she published was about herself. Her journey from a small town, to her struggle with the English language, and finally living the dream of being a columnist.

Arundhati was right. Every woman is strong. She has a story to tell.

She just needs the right person to listen.

Author’s Note:

This story has been written for the Warrior Women Blogathon. Women’s Web & Juggernaut Books invite you to join us on an exciting blogathon, inspired by the warrior women of history.

When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve-year-old girl, Aremis. Check out this new historical novel Empire (http://bit.ly/DeviEmpire) with a warrior woman, Aremis at the heart of the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Day Of Her Life

Jyotsna woke up, determined to go back to sleep. It must be 6 am, she thought. She looked at her watch. It was 8! She jumped out of bed. Why didn’t her alarm ring? Was it the am / pm mess again? Never mind! Who has the time to figure out now!

She layered a generous amount of toothpaste on her toothbrush, and stuffed it into her mouth as she entered the kitchen. Tea on one burner, bread on the other. Another burner was turned on, as she took out the dough from the refrigerator.

The door-bell rang. Rupa, her house-maid entered. Jyotsna did not have the energy to argue with her for coming late. She was just grateful that she came.

“There is some bhindi in the fridge. Can you please pack it in Bhaiya’s

tiffin.” Jyotsna said.

“Didi, there is not enough bhindi for two people. What will you carry today?”

“It’s okay. Just make sure you pack for him. I will eat something at work.”

By the time Jyotsna got dressed, Anand was back from yoga. She grabbed a slice of bread, and rushed to catch her office cab.

Jyotsna sat next to her friend, Nidhi in the cab who was her only solace in the one-and-a-half-hour commute. But today, Nidhi did not remove her head-phones, and ignored Jyotsna. She pestered her to talk. Nidhi burst into tears.

“Kunal dumped me!”

“Oh I am so sorry dear! What happened?”

“He said he got engaged to a girl, his mother found for him. When I accused him, he said he cannot possibly marry a woman who is on Tinder!”

“That’s ridiculous! He himself is on Tinder!”

“I know right!! Bloody hypocrite! He said we could continue seeing each other. But I told him to get lost. So, I dumped him, technically, right?”

“Oh yes of course! Good for you! We deserve better! I mean you deserve better!”

Just before lunch break, Jyotsna received a call from her mother-in-law. She was getting late, but she knew this was a call she had to pick. She still remembers the ruckus from the last time she had missed her call.

“Namastey Mummy!” she tried to sound cheerful. There was silence.

“Hello?”

“Jyotsna! I can’t believe you gave yesterday’s bhindi to my son for lunch! And bread for breakfast!! Why are you so lazy?”

“Mummy, I had got up late today. And Rupa was also late. He had really liked the bhindi last night. There was little left so just for today, I gave him that. And he loves bread! Especially when I put cheese spread on it!

“What option does he have, poor boy! Keep neglecting your husband! I never say anything. I am such a kind, understanding woman. You are lucky to have me as a mother-in-law. And a husband like Anand. When I got married, I used to get up at 5 and make sure…..”

Jyotsna was tempted to disconnect the phone. Her mother-in-law went on for half an hour. By the time she reached the cafeteria, it was fully crowded. She looked at the queue. Then at her watch. She had a call in 10 minutes. She had no option but to skip lunch.

Jyotsna and her boss dialed in for the call. They waited patiently for five minutes. After 10 minutes, somebody joined.

“Hi. This is Rahul from Leela’s team. Leela would not be able to take the call today. Her baby is sick so had to rush home. But I have prepared the report, and if we turn to page 10…”

“You see this!” Jyotsna’s boss muted the call, visibly infuriated.

“I hired Leela last year! She never bothered to tell me she was expecting at the time of interview! Enjoyed her paid maternity leave, and now she will come to work as and when she feels like! Lucky women!!”

“Her child is sick! I am sure she will log in from home in some time…”

“Just a minute, my wife is calling.”

Jyotsna was interrupted as the boss stepped out. But she could still hear him.

No I obviously cannot buy a present for a five-year-old kid on my way back! Just let him attend the birthday party without a gift! Big deal! He can gift later. Don’t disturb me at work for this non-sense! I have better things to do!”

He came back to the room, intuitive that Jyotsna had heard him.

“Sorry. My wife was insisting I buy a gift for a birthday party my son got invited to last minute. She is saying she cannot step out because she is busy! I was like busy with what? You are just a housewife! Anyway, let’s get back to the call…”

After a long day, Jyotsna reached home. Hungry, tired and irritated. As she went to cook dinner, she received a call from Rupa.

“Didi, I can’t come tomorrow!”

“What!! Why? This is your second holiday this week!”

“Sorry Didi. My husband and I had a huge fight. The Didi from 103 had given me her old jeans and kurti. When he saw me in jeans, he got mad and slapped me! He said no need to go to work and seduce men!

“So what! Now you will never work? He doesn’t earn anything anyway!”

“No no Didi. Tomorrow is end of month. He will ask money for alcohol. That time, I will say, I have no money left. His drama will not last. I am not educated like you na Didi, what to do?”

Jyotsna wanted to scream, but refrained. Could the day get any worse?

Jyotsna began having dinner after serving Anand.

“Mummy called me today.” Jyotsna decided to play with fire. “Apparently, you discussed the menu with her, which upset her!”

“Don’t be so over sensitive. She casually asked what I was eating, so I mentioned. Anyway, check this out. She sent me pictures of Rhea on WhatsApp. Just look at her!”

Rhea was Anand’s cousin’s wife. She had delivered a baby boy eight months back.

“Look how slim she is looking! She did aerobics and gym. Lost all that weight so soon!”

Jyotsna knew where the conversation was going.

“I mean just look at her! So pretty and slim! Who would guess she is 35! Some girls take such good care of themselves. They look so young and beautiful. You know Mummy was saying that maybe you should try to reduce too. I mean you are only 29. We don’t even have a child yet. You will only put on more from here on!”

“Excuse me!!”

“I knew you would get offended. It is so difficult to talk to you! What did I say wrong? You know men like their wives to be attractive.”

Jyotsna threw the bowl in her hand. Anand ducked, almost in reflex. He then realized it was just a fragile, steel bowl incapable of causing any damage. Embarrassed, he yelled.

“What the hell?”

Jyotsna stood up. Her big, kohled eyes were red, matching with her the red bindi. She looked very intimidating.

“Shut up!! Just shut up! What the hell, you want to know? Yes, I know I am fat. I would have loved to work out. But I don’t. I prepare your break-fast, tea, lunch and supervise the maid while you go for your yoga. In the evening, again I can’t go to gym because I have to cook dinner for you. I have not even had my lunch today. Did you even bother to check if I did?

You are a 33-year-old man-child who cannot even manage to take care of himself and complains to his mother about what he is being fed!
You know why Rhea is so pretty, because happy girls looks prettier. And you know why she is happy? Her husband is not a jerk like you! She has got a full-time baby sitter, and a cook. So, she can afford to spend time on herself. I can’t!

Not being smart, sexy, modern, is a problem. But we should not be too much of it either! We should be the right amount! Right enough to satisfy your ego, but careful enough not to hurt it!

You can be on Tinder! But we can’t! Wearing jeans is a problem! Leaving office early to tend to a sick child is a problem! Not embarrassing your child for attending a birthday party without a gift is a problem! You know who is the problem! You!!! Live a damn day in my life! Do the chores that I do. Manage house work with office! Listen to the taunts of an interfering and controlling mother-in-law! Come home to an unattractive husband! Yes, the feeling is mutual! If you get judged the way we do, you would not be able to survive!”

Jyotsna stormed out of the room. Anand had never seen her so angry. What is wrong with women? He thought. How did she find out he was on Tinder? When has he forbidden her to wear jeans? And what was that whole thing about presents, and sick children? They did not have any! It is probably that time of the month for her when she gets all crazy.

He would surely call Mummy tomorrow and ask her to counsel Jyotsna on PMS.

Note:

This story was written for an online contest where the cue was from the movie ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. I am aware that not all men are the way described in this story. This story has been written with the cue in mind, as a tribute to those who have made some of the Indian goddesses very angry.

Once Upon A Time She Lived Happily Ever After

Image Source

Kavya checked her phone for the 30th time in the past half an hour.

Kunal – Last seen today at 11:48 p.m.

She put her phone away. She then willed the universe:

Make him call me!!!

She checked her phone again. No call. No text.

Maybe he lost his phone… But then how come he was online at 11:48?

Something would have happened… He must be really sick.

Maybe he got a call in emergency, and had to leave town.

Or maybe I should just go make tea. By the time I am done, he would have texted.

Kavya had been dating Kunal for the past six months. He was everything she could have ever asked for. Good looking, suave, and charming. But something was not right. He would never introduce her to his friends, or meet hers. He would disappear for days, only to come back saying that he had been awfully busy. Kavya always chose to believe him despite her friends saying that she was dating a ghost.

Why did she always believe him? Because it was easier. She was not protecting him. She was protecting herself. Protecting herself from accepting the blame for poor judgment. Protecting herself from feeling unworthy of love. Protecting herself from being alone.

She was lost in her thoughts. Until the doorbell rang. Her roommate, Sanaya who was almost 10 years older had returned from her business trip. Her boyfriend, Amaan had picked up her from the airport and dropped her to their place. Kavya felt a pinch of jealousy. Kunal would have never done that. He never even stayed back at her place at night because he had to get up early in the morning.

What made Sanaya such a worthy girlfriend? Where did she lack? Kavya thought feeling bitter. She was pretty, smart, caring, and loyal. What more could Kunal possibly want? Why did he keep saying he did not want to commit?

She would not pressurize him. She was afraid of losing him, after all these months! If only she would stick around, one day he would realize her worth.

“You are so lucky, Sanaya. Amaan really cares for you. Why can’t I get a guy like that?”
Kavya told Sanaya as she checked her phone again.

“Because you settle for guys like Kunal who do not value you. You think ALL the guys I ever met were really into me? But once I realized that they were not, I had the courage to move away from them, even if it meant being alone.

Someone good will turn up, Kavya. But you have to create some space.”

Three weeks later

Kunal looked at his phone. It had been quite a few days since Kavya had texted him. Strange. A girl as clingy as her would just disappear? Had she found someone else. So soon? Had she blocked him?

Her profile photo was blurred. He clicked it. It was a picture of some animated, fairy-tale like character. Where had he seen that before? His niece had made him buy a school bag with that blue picture….

Frozen! Right!

He zoomed. There was some text also:

Yes, I am alone. But I am alone and free.

Not By Blood!

Originally published on yourstoryclub

“Charu, were you touching my make -up? Look, you closed it without rotating it and now it is broken,” said Sadhna holding the misshaped lipstick.

“Sorry Didi, I was just looking,” said Charu sincerely. “Look, I have made your favourite upma today. Just like Kakimaa!”

Sadhna’ heart melted as the 13-year girl served her upma. She tasted a bite, her eyes welling up.

“Please don’t send me away,” Charu started crying.

Sadhana put the spoon back in the dish and stormed to her bedroom. Why God? Why?

5 years ago

Sadhna, a sales manager lived with her widowed mother, Neerjala in a posh apartment complex. Sadhna’s job involved travelling and she needed a trustworthy person to take care of her mother and stay overnight in her absence. She found that trust in Chhaya. Chhaya was a hard-working and devoted housemaid, who would slog to earn two square meals a day for herself and her little daughter, Charu, only to get beaten up by her drunkard husband. Charu was a sweet kid, and Chhaya brought her to work regularly. Neerjala had taken an instant liking towards her. While Sadhna was away on business travel, Chhaya and Charu would keep her company in their otherwise lonely 3 bedroom apartment. The trio would watch movies together, go for walks, and chat and laugh about little nothings.

Chhaya wanted her little girl to live a life of dignity, and was struggling to give her an education. Neerjala would assist her financially in any way she could, being an emotional and compassionate person. Sadhna did not mind as she was earning well, and her father had also left enough money for them to live comfortably. She did not care what it cost her to retain Chhaya. She just wanted her mother, her only family left to be healthy and happy. But one mundane Tuesday night, when Sadhna was outstation for work, their lives changed forever.

There was a sudden power cut. Neerjala called out to Chhaya who along with Charu was sleeping in the servant’s room. Chaaya found a candle but could not figure out why there was no electricity when all other flats seemed to be fine. She called the security guard, who had been hired recently, to come and check. He told them that the invertor seemed damaged. It could not be fixed unless they pay Rs 8,000 for repair. This was a big amount and Neerjala refused to give it to him unless he called the electrician. He seemed drunk and started abusing Neerjala, forcing her to pay her atleast some money. Chhaya intervened, seeing Neerjala being disrespected and they got into a scuffle. The guy refused to leave the house. Neerjala struggled to find the estate manager’s number who lived in the same building. Sadhna had sent it to her through an sms. But she never understood how to save a contact, despite Sadhna teaching her repeatedly. Frantically, she called Sadhna who contacted the estate manager.

The guy finally left when Chhaya threatened to call the police. The estate manager came with the electrician and their problem got fixed in an hour. However, the two women were completely agitated. Chhaya complained against him, and he was called before the management. Chhaya accused him of cheating and misbehaving with a senior citizen. She also believed that he had deliberately switched off their main connection to extract money, seeing the vulnerability of the women. He was fired immediately.

A week later, as Chhaya was walking home alone at night, he came out of nowhere. He asked her to take the complaint back, as he was in dire need of a job. He was having difficulty finding another job in the neighborhood as people had heard that he had some “issue” at the previous job. Chhaya insisted that it was not her fault. It was his own wrongdoing and there was nothing she could do. He started calling her names and grabbed her by her hair. She screamed for help. He covered her mouth. She resisted. He strangulated her. She died on the spot.

The news of the tragic and horrendous murder spread like fire. Neerjala was shattered. How guilty she felt! The poor woman died because of her. Had she not been in her house that day, she would have been alive. She could not bear to think of the burden she would carry all her life.

Few days later, one of Chhaya’s relatives brought Charu to their home. The child looked so different from how they had known her! So weak, so malnourished. Such sad eyes! Neerjala’s heart went out to the little girl. The relative told Neerjala that Charu’s father had sold her to a 60-year-old man. He locked his house and left town. Now nobody knows his whereabouts. Charu escaped and came back to relatives but nobody wanted to take responsibility for her.

“How to leave her on the road, Kaki. She is a girl. I already have 4 children. How can I feed one more? Please put her in some orphanage,” said the woman before leaving her.

Sadhna started looking for shelter homes where they could send Charu. But Neerjala did not want to send her away.

“What is she becomes a human trafficking victim? What if she starves?”

Sadhna tried to convince her that she would look for a verified and safe place for her. But Neerjala was inconsolable.

“My Chhaya! How she died, screaming for help! I will take care of Charu like my daughter. Then only her soul will rest in peace.”

Neerjala would keep mumbling all day. Sometimes talking to herself, sometimes to Chhaya. Sadhna was worried that her mother would lose her sanity. She decided to keep Charu till the time that her mother became stable. She transferred Charu to a better school nearby.

Charu was always a well-behaved kid but a good atmosphere at home and school did wonders for her. She was smart and did reasonably well in studies. Sadhna got her good clothes and Neerjala taught her good manners. As time passed, nobody could distinguish that she was not part of their family. Sadhna continued to search for foster homes for her. But it was difficult because most people were not interested in adopting an eight-year-old girl.

A year later, Sadhna mustered up the courage to speak to her mother.

“Maa, I have got in touch with an NGO. They give a place to stay to girls like Charu and even teach some vocational courses. I am thinking…”

“Over my dead body!” interrupted Neerjala. “Her mother died because of me. She came in my dream and told me now she is at peace because I am with her. Till I am alive, she is going nowhere. She goes, I go!”

Neerjala got so hysterical that Sadhna did not dare to bring the topic again. She was annoyed, having to support another human being, who was not her blood relative. She had nothing against Charu. She was a loving child. She would have supported her financially. But was there any need to keep her in their house?

Meanwhile, Charu had become a fan of Sadhna didi. How pretty she was! What nice clothes she wore! How she went to office! How fluently she spoke English! She was always trying to impress her. Even though she was still a kid, she loved cooking and she especially loved cooking for Sadhna didi. Kakimaa, as she fondly called Neerjala would teach her to make Sadhna’s favourite dishes.

They all lived peacefully together for the next four years until tragedy stuck this home again. Neerjala passed away after a sudden cardiac arrest.

As Sadhna looked at her mother, lifeless and cold, she felt a pain so strong that she was sure she would die too. Charu clung to her like a baby as they both hugged and cried for the only person in this world who loved them true and pure, who was now gone. They were alone.

The next few days were unbearable, living in the haunting emptiness of this house without Neerjala. Sadhna would think she saw her mother or heard her only to realise that the reality was so hopeless. Her only solace was Charu.

It is surprising how intuitive kids are. She was not even a teenager yet, still she believed that now she was Sadhna’s caretaker. She would do the things that Kakimaa did for Sadhna didi. Morning she would ask her if she kept her lunch box and what time she would come back. At night she would remind her to drink milk. She would also convince her to go out for movies and shopping, something Sadhna had lost interest in. Charu was there for her, when her world had collapsed.

Present day

Life was looking up for Sadhna. She had finally found love with her boyfriend, Kunal. They were planning to get married.

“You have to get rid of that maid, okay? It is so annoying; I can’t even come back to your apartment because she is there. Just put her in some orphanage for God’s sake.”

But, how could she? Charu was like family now. They had been living together for 5 years. She was distressed because Kunal even objected to support her financially.

“You want to continue spending on her? We will have home loans and car loans and our own kids. Don’t be an emotional fool.”

Sadhna had mentioned to Charu about her marriage and that she would find her a good place where there would be other kids her age. Charu had cried and cried and begged her to let her stay.

Sadhna felt horrible. But was she being selfish? Was she not supposed to think about her future? Kunal would be her husband. She could not just disregard his opinions. She did not want to end up alone…

Kunal had arranged for Charu’s stay at an orphanage in Orissa.

“How can we send her so far? Let us find her a place in Kolkata only. Atleast I can keep visiting her.”

“Let me make it clear, Sadhna. I don’t want this maid in our lives!”

The day had arrived when Charu had to leave. Charu who had been pleading and crying was now completely silent. It was as if she had resigned to her fate. She had packed her suitcase. Kunal and Sadhna would drop her to the railway station where somebody would accompany her.

Charu looked at one of the photo frames of her, Kakimaa and Sadhna.

“Didi can I take this, please.”

Sadhna felt choked with emotion as she nodded. Charu hugged her and cried uncontrollably.

Over my dead body! Over my dead body! She goes, I go…

“Can we go now?” said Kunal irritated. “The train will not wait for her.”

“No!” Sadhna broke down. “I can’t!”

“Not again”, said Kunal shaking his head. “This girl is not even your blood relative! She is your maid’s daughter!”

“Stop calling her maid! Maa treated her like her own child! Maa wanted her to stay. If she goes, Maa goes..!”

“Your mother is dead!”

Sadhna gave him a tight slap. Charu who was still hugging her, held her even more tight.

“I don’t want to enter into new relationships with people who cannot respect my existing ties.”

“Stay with her, you *****. Remain a spinster. Which man will be willing to adopt a 13-year-old girl with you?”

“A man who is a bigger person than you. If not, this home has always had self-sufficient women. Goodbye!”

That night both Sadhna and Charu dreamt that Neerjala was in the house. She looked happy and healthy, the way they liked to remember her.

If Grandma could choose

My story that won ‘Muse of the Month’ on Women’s Web:

The cue for this month was from the movie Queen, in which Kangana’s reel granny tells her that instead staying back in the hotel and watching TV and feeling bad for herself, she should go out and meet people, go sight-seeing…who knows she might find someone interesting too!

Read more:

I never promised to marry you!

It was a regular night at Hard Rock Café. Ashish and Rehan were hanging out. Every Friday these two would catch up here (except ofcourse when they were with their girlfriends). Ashish had been dating Sanaya for the past 10 months.

She was a single mother with a nine-year-old daughter.

“So where is Sanaya this weekend
,” asked Rehan.

“She is travelling to Delhi for a wedding.
” Said Ashish.

“Oh, so no action this weekend!”
winked Rehan. “When are you telling her about Avanti?”

“I will now, once she is back”.

“Hahha, hope she doesn’t get clingy and start blackmailing you,”

“Nah, I never promised to marry her! If she expected something more, her fault!”

For the first time, Ashish’s life was going perfect. He was settled in his career, and had just been promoted to Senior Project Manager. Ashish was always the geek in school and college. He envied other guys as they went out with the hottest girls with the shortest clothes in the biggest cars.

It took him a decade since then, but here he was living the dream! A good house, a good car and a girlfriend his friends drooled at. Somebody has said it right, women are like wine, they get better with age. At 41, Sanaya had the body to die for. Ashish had joined the gym to get in shape to impress women. But how did he get lucky enough to woo the gym owner, the most sought after Sanaya Sarin, his friends still wonder?

Ashish’s parents were visiting from Dhanbad. He must get married by the end of this year, his mother had announced. He was turning 32, high time. Ashish had told his mother he wanted a girl who is fluent in English and well-educated but not career minded. She should be able to bend as and when required for family. Avanti was perfect. Fair and slim, 23 year old with a degree in sociology. Avanti and Ashish had been talking on the phone for over two months. When he had met her in Dhanbad along with her family, he knew she was the one. Young, innocent, pretty, traditional small town girl just the way he liked. Always marry a girl who is much younger, so you can mold her your way, his mother would say.

The Roka had been fixed for November. It was still three months away! Ashish had been showering Avanti with presents. He loved pampering her. Avanti never confessed her love for him, though. Must be shy, he thought. Unlike these confused, Westernized city girls with no values!

Back in Bangalore, Sanaya had been hounding him with her phone calls and texts.

“Please Ashish, come back. I really love you!”

Ashish had never promised to marry her. Where did she get the idea that this would be something long term? All women are the same, he thought. He did not want things to end so nasty with Sanaya but she was behaving like a needy psycho now.

“I am not the first man in your life, anyway so don’t tell me you can’t handle this!”’
He texted back after some more ugly exchange of messages.

Sanaya was eating up so much of his time and energy that he did not even get time to buy an outfit for the Roka. He selected a blue sherwani, Avanti’s favourite colour. He also bought a necklace for her.

Finally, it was the big day. Even though it was not such a big function, some of his friends had still made to Dhanbad. Ashish was looking just like Hrithik Roshan, his mother said. His friends were already drunk and dancing. Avanti’s family was late much to their surprise. The girl’s side is supposed to host, how can they arrive after the groom?

Avanti was not picking up her phone. She must be still at the parlour. Ashish’s father got a call following which there was a lot of commotion. Ashish’s mother almost collapsed. What the hell was going on, did something happen to Avanti?

“Beta, Avanti has eloped with her boyfriend!”

________________________________________________________________________________
Three weeks had passed. Ashish was back to Bangalore. To say that he was shocked was an understatement. How could she? He was so good to her… If she did not want to marry him, why did she talk to him, meet him, and agree for the Roka? She was playing with his feelings all this time. He was heartbroken and humiliated.

He had been wanting to contact her, but had restrained himself. But today as he saw her whatsapp DP, smiling as if nothing had happened, he could not hold himself back.

“You, bitch!” he typed and pressed send.

He kept waiting to see when the ticks would turn blue but she did not come online. He does not remember when he passed out, the drinks were too much.

Next day at work, there was a flash on his phone. Whatsapp message from Avanti:

“Mind your language, you idiot.
And FYI, I never promised to marry you!”

Ashish was fuming. Look at the nerve this woman had! Another notification came. What else does she want to say?

It was a message from Sanaya.

“You are such a loser! I deserve better.