It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and she was smiling. After a long time, she felt happy, more so , content. She was going to meet her friend today who was the newest addition to her friend-circle; which was not big anyway . Neena looked at her watch and realized she had around three hours left to complete her house-hold chores before she would join Annie for tea. They had planned to go for shopping together later that evening ,both of them had been planning this for days now, so she was excited.
Neena was a simple girl and she did not expect much from anyone. She was married to a successful business-man. Her husband, Sunil was hard-working and a good person. He knew she had few friends and was supportive of her in her decision to take some time off for herself. They had been married for three years now and since the day she stepped into his house, she had taken-up the responsibility of being a good house-wife, daughter-in-law and managed things very well in their conservative family. They did not have children yet but they were okay.
Finally, at 4:00 p.m., the driver dropped Neena at Annie’s house. She was very happy that she made it and saw an excited Annie waiting for her at the front porch. Annie yelled from the porch ” You can send the car back, I can drive you home. There is no need to keep your driver waiting.”
Neena then instructed her driver to go home and inform Sunil that she would be dropped off by her friend. She entered Annie’s home and was really impressed to see how beautiful it was kept. Annie greeted her, “Welcome, Mrs. Das to my humble abode. This pleasure was long time due.”
“Why thank you Mrs.Gupta, the pleasure is all mine…” she relied playfully. “Your home is lovely.”
“Come, I have everything set on the table. Tea is also done. Let’s go into the dining area and settle down. Isn’t it nice to be away from home?”
“Yes it is, you know Annie, it’s been so long I haven’t been a friend’s place. I do visit friends, but they are either society-members or family friends . Since they know everyone one in my family, some how I don’t feel completely open with them .Here I am feeling free and believe me it is after a very long time.”
“How long has it been since you quit your job?” Annie asked as they settled in the dining area. She offered Neena tea and passed the bowl of sugar to her.
“Almost three years now, I quit when I was getting married.It happened so quickly and since then I am at home. I do try working from home, but our family is pretty conservative. I don’t think they would object but whats the fun in working from home?”
“Yeah, I understand Neena. Hey, I have made dessert. Do you like gajar ka halwa (carrot-sweet dish)?” Annie quickly hurried in the kitchen and brought out a large bowl of halwa.
“I do. Oh my goodness Annie, it seems like you made enough for the whole colony.”
“Oh please, I also don’t get friends coming at my place often. It feels nice to have someone home. All my friends are either co-workers and the rest are social friends from my husband, Nitin’s side. The rest that were from college are all married and settled in other cities. So am glad we could get some time today.We can eat our halwa and drink tea without bothering about the rest of the day’s chores.”
“True that.” Neena answered with a smile. She took the bowl from Annie and set it on the table while Annie brought out spoons. ” Speaking of your husband, where is he. I have never met him.”
“Nitin is out for the week to Singapore. He will be back next Monday. His family is not very conservative and they all stay nearby…” She handed a spoon to Neena. ” …He isn’t a frequent traveler; however, if he does have to go for work , it generally is a week-long trip. That’s why I am glad you are here. Through out the whole week my time goes by easily, but when I come home, I really need someone to talk to. Taste the halwa (dessert) and let me know how is it?”
Neena took a spoonful closed her eyes.” Hmm…mm.mm. Annie this is delicious. I love it and am sort of am thankful you made that much. I will take some home if you don’t mind. My huband will absolutely love this. This is one of his favorite desserts. Even I can’t make this dish so good. You have to teach me how you made this.”
Annie jokingly lifted her collar and beamed in pride ” Well madam, I will charge for classes then.”
” Done, I don’t mind paying to learn how to perfect this dish. My husband says that if dessert is a kingdom the gajar ka halwa ( carrort-sweet) is the queen of it. Ha ha”
Annie heard that and stopped for a moment as if she heard something familiar. She smiled and said ” This is such a co-incidence. I have heard this before and it is true, this dessert beats chocolate easily.”
“You should start your own business and patent this recipe.”
“O stop Neena, it’s not that good… So, what does your husband do, I mean, I know he is a business-man, but what type of business does he deal in?”
“Sunil…Well, his business is of gems and jewelry. Actually the whole family is involved into the same business. They work together and live together. You might have heard of Aakriti Gems and Traders ?”
Annie paused for a moment…Aakriti Gems and Traders !
“O yeah, it is pretty big Neena, so does your husband manage showrooms or …?”
“Sunil has a degree in jewelry deigning as well as a Masters in Marketing. He trades for precious metals and gems on behalf of the business. The rest of his family is involved in sales. He does have to travel a lot for business meetings. He does share a lot of information with me on how the meetings take place and how they have to travel to check the quality of the gems or metals. It is fascinating.”
Annie became uptight, “Wow, sure does sound interesting. You might be really bugged being inside the house then. Does your husband not support your decision to work?”
Neena hesitated before answering,” He never says anything in front of his parents, he however, does not oppose the thought.”
“Okay, are you in for shopping or do you want to stay home. Let me warn you, there is no dinner. So unless you desire to cook, we can stay in.” Annie joked.
“ No, lets stay in and talk. I am surprised that I made a new friend so soon. If we had not met at the bank the other day and thanks to the long waiting time, I would have never known you. I am so glad you reached out and started chatting with me. Let’s stay in and keep talking…we can then go and grab a bite on the way home. Does that work for you?”
“Sure does…yeah we did gel in quickly… as if it were meant for us to be friends. When did we meet, like three months ago right? ” Annie asked.
Neena affirmatively nodded.
Annie asked, ” You might have to be home early?”
“Yes, how did you know? They are not very open-minded. Yeah, I think my family would like it for me to be home before 9:30 p.m. For dinner, do you have any place particular in mind.” Neena replied clutching her watch.
“No, not really. But there is this one place called Gardenia, it’s amazing. Have you been there? This place has the best view to relax and has a buffet counter that is absolutely delicious. I used always go out with my friends there. One of my friends used to say that it is like eating in a spa. Nitin, however, does not like going there often, he like to try out new places instead. ” Annie beamed.
” Eating in a spa, my husband says the same thing. Hmm…Gardenia, I always wanted to go there. My husband could never take me there, well ,because we have family with us all the time and they don’t eat outside at all. He did mention this place was his favorite hang-out with his friends during college. Yes, let’s go there. This will be my first. Man, I should be with you often, it seems like you know me really well.”
After conversations on many topics, both of them paused. Annie could sense that Neena was not entirely satisfied. She could understand her desire to dream was quashed in daily chores. She wanted to help but was hesitant of her past. The more Neena talked about Sunil, the more Annie realized that something was off. She decided that being a friend means being tough and helping them out.
“Didn’t you say that you had completed your graduate degree in Arts?” Annie asked suddenly.
“Yeah why? I also hold a post-graduate degree in Computer Science. I was more involved in designing software. Oh how I miss working on the computer for real… Not just using the internet to check our mail or posing comments on Facebook.”
” Yes, my point exactly.” Annie seemed to be more concerned.
“Um, what’s the point again?” Neena narrowed her eyes not understanding what Annie was implying.
” Neena, Sunil owns a business which can benefit from your expertise. As far as I understand, he is involved in logistics of the business, right?”
“Right!” Neena replied, still bewildered.
“Well, then why don’t you participate in your family business. It’s not going to be like any other full-time job but you can create a program for his business which can help him in logistics. You can manage your work hours easily. You could also learn jewelry designing and help him in creating designs and brand them. There is so much for you to contribute and from where I sit I can can easily see that your expertise would benefit him immensely.”
Neena kept staring at Annie. This thought never crossed her mind. They had never discussed about being involved in business together. She had devoted so much time keeping her family happy and playing the role of the good wife that she had completely forgotten that she could use her expertise and contribute to the family business.
“I guess I need to talk this out with Sunil.” She said slowly … feeling slightly awkward to broach a delicate topic.
“Yes, you should. Neena, you are smart and from the looks of it, you are content easily, but life is not about being content with whatever you have…it is about expanding horizons and feeling whole or complete… like now there is nothing else required… Sunil needs you to participate in business matters, it is going to enable him and it will benefit you as well ” Annie encouraged her.
Neena looked at Annie and said, ” No one has encouraged me to take this step before, not even my parents. Everyone told me to be good at home and try to keep everyone satisfied.”
Annie said, “I understand, my family does not live with me under this roof but that does not diminish expectations at their end. I know there has to be time invested in family, but you should spend some time with your husband as well. Taking an active part in his business as opposed to working elsewhere will not only give you both time together, but you both can also create something for yourselves. Don’t you agree?”
“That’s true. Even though I am satisfied and content with what I have, there is a feeling inside me that I can do more. It’s like I have everything,but still something is missing…something is incomplete. Well, you’ve give me something to think about.” She pondered on her situation a bit.
The ladies enjoyed their dinner together. They had a great time talking and then set out for Neena’s home. Annie dropped her and Neena thanked her once again for the lovely evening.
“Hey, how did you know where I stay? I don’t remember you taking directions from me?” Neena asked.
Annie froze as if she was guilty of something…
” Well some computer-genius you are? Everyone knows where Aakriti Gems and Traders is .” and then she pointed out at the GPS navigator installed in her car. Neena just bent her head and covered her eyes with her hand and just laughed.
” O goodness, I really am not myself today.” Neena said.
“Just let me know how your conversation with Sunil goes, if you wish to talk about it, you can share with me. Go in now, you are getting late…don’t want you to endure your in-law’s wrath on my account “Annie joked again.
Neena wished her good night and thanked her for the umpteenth time and went in quickly. They both could see Sunil coming towards the gate and Annie drove away.
“How did your evening go? Wait a minute…you didn’t get anything for yourself, what kind of shopping spree was this?” He asked Neena as she entered the house.
“No, we didn’t shop. We talked so much that time went by. Annie sends her regards though. I wanted to invite her in but it’s late and I don’t know how your mom and dad would react to her coming in…so … she left.” Neena replied in a very hushed tone.
She was excited though, “Do you know where we went for dinner?” she asked like a small child.
“Gardenia! Finally, I wish I could go there with you though sometime…it’s wonderful. I really enjoyed the day with Annie today.”
” Annie?” He asked. “Didn’t you say it was Mrs. Gupta?”
” Yes, Sunil… Her name is Annie Gupta. She is really amazing. I hope you could meet her soon. Probably when her husband comes back from Singapore, we both can go and visit them. We can do that, right?”
Sunil, however, didn’t say much after that. He just nodded yes and then told her to go in and take rest.
The next Saturday Neena made dessert following the recipe Annie had given her during tea-time and was praised by everyone. Sunil, in particular, was very happy with her preparation. He could see her change through out the week She was asking so many questions about how his business worked and what I.T. requirements he felt the business needed. He also noticed a different zeal in her to change things around. She wasn’t just taking notes but was visiting the showroom and spending time there, observing how business functioned. He liked this new Neena.
“What has happened to you? First you ask questions, then you spend time at the showroom and now you cook dessert just the way I like it? Something has changed Neena.”
“I guess it has…but I need you to be on-board with what I am going to suggest and you can say no anytime you want, I just have been thinking about things are here and I feel there is more I can do to help you.” Neena said cautiously.
“Okay, you sound different, go on.” Sunil persuaded her. He took another bite of her scrumptious dessert.
“Sunil, I had studied hard and was working before I met you and I am good at creating programming software. But for the past three years, I have been living a different life-style that I don’t really relate to. Don’t get me wrong, I feel content with all you have provided, but being idle the most of the time is really bugging me now. We both don’t get time together and you spend most your time at work. I can help you if you allow me to take part in the family-business. For the past few days , I have observed that all transactions done from the showroom can be traced only through paper-bills. I can help create an on-line system that can help you bill, track information and store transaction details easily. It would help customers also and the business can benefit a lot.But all this can only happen if you allow me to part-take in the business.”
Sunil kept staring at her without eating from the spoon that was half-way to his mouth. He just paused in surprise.
Neena looked at him and said ” Well, what do you say?”
He said, ” Okay, this is new….see, it is a good idea to have someone like you on-board. I know you feel my parents are conservative and they are…but I can talk them into allowing you to work with me. Times have changed and they need to acknowledge that . Frankly, if you join the business , it would be great to have someone sensible to overlook so many things and it would reduce my supervision as well…All these elders need to open their minds to technology. I would love to have you teach them that.”
She was happy to hear that Sunil was supportive of the idea. In the next few days, she and Sunil came up with a plan to manage certain departments. He had told his parents about their discussion. His parents were not very happy at first but he insisted that it is high time that they change their point of view.
However, Sunil still seemed to be distant with Neena and hoped work would now fill the void they had. He seemed distracted and even though they both worked together and Neena found him traveling more often.
Neena then informed Annie and told her that her plan worked and that Sunil did stand up for her in front of his parents and they have agreed to support her too. She also buried herself in work and got busy expanding the business.
The coming weeks were hectic for Neena. She and Annie stayed in touch through phone. They occasionally met for coffee or lunch whenever they could. Annie was very happy with the way Neena turned things around for herself and refused to take any credit for the idea.
“We all should have dinner together. Nitin and you should come to our place once.” Neena suggested to Annie.
” But when do we ever get time…all four of us have hectic schedules now Neena.” Annie protested.
“O common, it’s high time our husbands get acquainted. Common, don’t be a spoilt-sport Annie….Okay, just discuss with Nitin and find out if he is free for dinner this Saturday.”
“He is not and neither am I. We both have to go to our parent’s place this weekend.”
“What about next Saturday then?” Neena was persistent.
“Nope, next Saturday he will be travelling to Bangkok. We can do this later Neena.”
“Okay, what about you? Can you make it to our place next Saturday. We have the inauguration of our new showroom. You are invited, so please don’t say no now. I really have worked hard on this and I would love to celebrate it with you Annie, just try to come.”
Annie could not refuse Neena’s invitation and agreed to come in briefly and meet everyone. She knew how important this would have been for her friend. However, she was very tense.
On the day of the inauguration, Neena waited for Annie for a long time. She almost had given up hope on her when Annie made her appearance. It was late and Annie came in hurriedly. Neena was extremely happy , she said ” I am so glad you made it, even though your sense of timing is bad.”
” Okay, I am offended by that.” Annie replied smiling, ” I had to be drop Nitin to the airport and his flight was delayed. But I came here to say congratulations and well-done. I wouldn’t have missed meeting you in person today, but I also apologize for not staying back. It’s late and I need to head home.”
“No, please stay Annie. Okay I understand, if you can’t stay, give me 5 minutes, I will pack some dinner and dessert for you.Please don’t say no to that.”
Sunil and Annie stood silently with each other for sometime. He spoke first. ” Well, this is awkward. How have you been?”
“I have been good Sunil. I really didn’t want to put you in this odd position. Trust me, I did try to avoid coming here, but Neena had worked hard on this project and I needed to come here to show my support.”
“I understand…to tell you the truth, I am glad to see you. After we parted ways five years ago, we never spoke nor have met. You moved on so quickly that I had even forgotten how things ended between us. Annie, I know you are married but seeing you here…I am at loss of words….I don’t even know what to say. Neena is a good wife but I could never get over you. I saw you driving off from our place the other night and since then I could not stop thinking about you. I am glad you came. It seems like I never stopped loving you.” Sunil’s face was like a love-sick puppy.
Annie frowned and her face expressed her disapproval,
” Excuse me, never get over me? What does that suppose to mean. Sunil we were together for a long time until we could not agree on certain things. Yes, college was fun and I will never deny I loved you then. Probably more than anyone else. My love for you never diminished. But your parents wanted someone who could manage the house exclusively and I clearly wasn’t ready for that.”
Sunil quietly asked, ” So are you happy now? Neena mentioned your husband’s name is Nitin and he travels often, his parents stay near by and you do have to fulfill their expectations. Doesn’t seem like you? so are you happy now?”
“Sunil, I was never against a compromise. When your parents had disapproved to my working after marriage, I understood that I had to compromise, but you didn’t voice out your concern then. They went on and on about how their daughter-in-law should be at home and take care of her husband, take care of elders and also represent the family in society. Where was your support then? You agreed to whatever they said and not once did you tell them about my expectations or aspirations.”
Both kept quiet for sometime.
“Sunil, what surprises me more is that five years ago you fell in love with a girl who was free-spirited and wanted to do something for herself. I really did not want to work at home and be just a house-wife. I was not even willing to try . And here, you are with Neena, she is equally capable, talented and free-spirited. She sacrificed three years of her life and dreams to satisfy you in every way. When I met her, she talked about you and I understood in an instant that you were not happy.
I did not know Neena was your wife. But when Neena told me about your business and your one-lined comments on things like gajar ka halwa, about Gardenia , it all added up that she had married the same Sunil Das I had fallen for years before. The same Sunil, for whom I had refused to put my life on hold , she has put a hold on everything else. She even has compromised by contributing for your business, to benefit you. She wants to spend time together with you and what are you doing for her in return?
I know you always wanted your wife to use her mind and to make something of herself. That’s why you liked me…I encouraged Neena to work with you in your business hoping you would be content and happy with a wife who did what you finally wanted, but I was wrong. You insult her love and sacrifice by saying that you are not over me. Move on Sunil, learn to respect what you have and appreciate the love Neena has for you. I could have never loved you like this. And by the way, I am very happy with Nitin…I had told him about us before tying the knot. He was okay with everything and never doubted me for a minute. He was the one who told me that past is the past but today is what matters. Yesterday there might have been something with you but today I am just Neena’s friend. My husband completes me,he gives me his undivided attention and his unconditional love, can you say the same for yourself? ”
Sunil was dumbstruck and listened in silence. As if lighting had struck him and he could not move. He did not even realize the depth of his wife’s love and how shallow he had been with her. The very thought of entertaining feelings for Annie while all this time Neena trusted him completely, sickened him . He felt regret and looked away from Annie….his eyes searching for Neena desperately.
Neena approached Annie with a huge bag and said pleasantly, “My lady, dinner is served…I really wish you could come in and see the place.”
Annie smiled and thanked her,” I promise I will, some other time. It was nice meeting you Sunil, I wish you both the very best and hope you both have a great life ahead. Neena, I really have to go now.” The ladies hugged and parted ways.
Everything was wrapped up for the day and Sunil drove Neena home, they both were exhausted. Neena quickly arranged things at home and asked if he wanted anything. Sunil was sitting in one corner of the room, when Neena entered in. She locked the door and sat next to him.
“What happened? You are so quiet right now. Normally you would discuss about the next day’s work…it’s good tomorrow is Sunday. We can sleep in and relax a bit and then we ca…”
Sunil suddenly held her hand and her voice faded softly.
“Have I ever told you that you are amazing?”
She was surprised to hear that…she kept looking into his eyes.
” You, my wife, Neena , are amazing. You have put up with me and my family unconditionally and we have not made it any easy for you. But all you do is for us. Your work is good and for everything you have done for me, I have never thanked you.”
Her eyes welled up and she looked down… He slowly bent forward and wiped her tears. He hugged her and said
” Thank you…I am so sorry for not noticing your work and love. For always keeping quiet even though you had so many dreams of your own. I love you and I feel I have never told you that. But tonight I just want to be with you and let you know that I am never going to leave you alone.You have my complete support and I will try to be better for you.”
He dimmed the light and they lay down on the bed. She buried her head into his arms and said nothing. They both lay there silently and the clock ticked softly….feeling closer than ever. There was a different vibe in the air. Neena kept staring at ceiling, she felt loved, she felt more than content, she felt as if her husband found the real her and she could see him clearly today. For the first time she knew was happy that she was not compromising with content, she was complete!