Nitxa got up from her disturbed sleep. It was raining outside. Gathering her nightgown she swung off the so called bed and walked towards the wash basin, head heavy and distressed. Sleep had evaded her, for the past was not very far behind, just close at hand and the rawness of it filled her with a shadowy revulsion that was indescribable. Her almost three year old son was sleeping peacefully in the crib-like bed, curled up with scanty bed sheet to cover him.
She looked around the windowless shack and the purported bed she had woken up from. The bed was a discarded plank she had found outside the building compound and had brought it inside without anyone noticing. The floor was too rough to sleep on. This room had served as a tool shed at one time, then later as a retiring room for the watchman of the complex and now with the help of the watchman, as a token of kindness from him, she had managed to get it free for a night to hide her head. The room was airless and quite suffocating.
The washbasin was dirty and the plastic tap, too tight to open. When she opened it water gushed with a shrill sound and splashed on her night gown. She struggled to shut it cursing it under her breath. Back in some space the washbasin tap had given similar trouble never closing fully and the water leaked, falling with a pit-pat sound irritating to the ears, but that was in her home. She remembered how she had pressed it from top but the water still didn’t stop, it flowed all the more making a pool below the basin. Gopi knew how to stop the water. He was there in a moment and closed the control tap below the basin and the water stopped completely. He smiled at her, his teeth protruding, which was quite irksome to her. He was so handy and timely. ‘Poor man,’ she thought.
Now she imagined she was dreaming and would wake up with a menacing feeling thanking God that such a thing didn’t happen with her, that she was safe and sound in her own little home, a supreme haven that it had been, a one bedroom-hall-kitchen, which she had beautified initially but later cursed and despised.
But no, she wasn’t dreaming. It was real, the present. She was sitting on the plank with nothing in the room, nothing to eat, no kitchen, no water-closet, only squashed beedi and cigarette butts around.
Life slices; it’s a double edged weapon. If you don’t use it properly it will slice you and that’s not amusing. If you respect life, it will respect you in return. Life is merciless. Time is merciless. It only teaches and teaches and the only option for you is to learn the lessons it teaches because you asked for it, because you fed your ego. You cannot say ‘I am sorry I made a wrong move. I will pull out my action and correct it.’ All you have is consequences for your actions.
She began to learn her lessons now.
Nitxa sat huddled, hugging her knees, resting her head on her knees. A slight knock brought her to senses. It was Priyanka, her friend. She came in. Instantly she knew something had gone terribly wrong again.
“Hi, what on earth are you doing here? You could have come to my house, five buildings away. How could you put up in this security room of the watchman, no matter how understanding he is? I was going to get milk and when he saw me, he pointed at this room, that’s how I came here; he knows we are friends.”
Nitxa’s face was all screwed up, tightened and taut. Priyanka had a plan. She told Nitxa to go with her to her house for a bath and breakfast. Then they would think what next to do. Picking up her shoulder bag and the child they went to Priyanka’s house. The lift stopped on the fifth floor. Priyanka’s mother was at the door. She looked concerned.
“Please come in. Feel free and relax here,” she said and then continued her bhajan stringing the flowers. Nitxa was filled with sudden panic and apprehension. She managed to escape into the bathroom and told herself ‘everything would turn out well.’ After a bath and change, mother and child sat for breakfast. At the dining table Priyanka was cheerful. She had been Nitxa’s junior, but a good friend and still unmarried.
Tarun looked gloomily about, sitting hunched in the big chair. There was a terrible sense of loss in his eyes. He hardly made any sound. He ate mechanically staring into space.
“So why did you leave your mother’s house in a huff?” Priyanka asked breaking the silence.
“I am in no mood to talk. Let me get myself together and then we will talk.”
“Cool. Rest it out here for a day or two.”
Priyanka’s mother was singing Meera bhajan. It sounded so good to her ears. “Meera left her palace and went wandering in search of her beloved Krishna strumming her Ektara.”
Nitxa felt a hot flush rising in her, her incapacity to reason out anything. In a way she has done the same, but for another man. She had left her world of security behind chasing a dream, a shadow, an illusion, but not alone- with a child.
“I think you should snatch some sleep. Go to my room and sleep.”
Nitxa meekly went to the room and fell on the bed. The pillow was soft and soothing. The bed was clean, fresh-smelling and inviting. But her mind was in a confused state. Tarun followed her meekly and stood staring at her with vacant eyes. His thin frame and joyless face made her sick. If only he could run around and play or do something other than stare at her, she thought, it would be easier for her. She asked him if he wanted anything. He did not reply but continued to stare until she could bear it no longer. “Mummy, when will we go back to daddy’s house?” he asked softly.
Under the circumstances she could not sleep. She sat up and called out to her friend.
“Looks like I have to act now,” she said. “It’s now or never.”
“Yes, you have his number, don’t you? Call him up and tell him of your sudden plight,” said Priyanka.
“No, not over the phone. I have to meet him personally and tell him. Last night I even thought of going to his flat then I decided against it. Rightfully, he should take me there, himself. I was on my way to your house only, but it began to rain heavily and the watchman who saw me struggling asked me to run into the first available shelter that was his security room. I’m sorry to trouble you like this. But…..” her voice trailed off.
Priyanka sighed and cocked her head to one side, throwing her a side glance and walked out shutting the door.
Afterwards it struck her that she need not be apologetic to Priyanka. She was the type who reached out instantly and never minded any inconvenience. She helped people on their terms.
Nitxa picked up an empty diary from Priyanka’s drawer and decided to weave all the events of her life together. She wanted some breather, some kind of let-up so that the next step would be clear.
She bit the tip of the pen thinking where to begin.
Gopi came into my life, she wrote, when I was seventeen running eighteen. Mother wanted me to marry him and settle down. When I protested she insisted he was the right man and began with the marriage preparations. I wanted to study further. I had to make my life and marry a man of my choice. But I could not tell mother so. I merely said I did not want to marry. She asked me for a valid reason and my words died on my tongue out of fear, so she went ahead with the marriage talks.
Gopi was willing for the marriage. He had only a sister who was like his guardian. His parents were dead long ago and they had sold their land in their home town and settled in Mumbai. He was a small time businessman manufacturing cables and marketing them. He had invested a lot of money in the business. He might have appeared very promising to mother to carry on with this proposal. I was dragged into it.
My elder sister Niranjana was the most beautiful among the three of us. Nandita was good looking but not very smart. Hers was a very subdued beauty. I remember going to the mirror and throwing a look at myself. I studied my reflection. My expression was smug. I was indeed good looking with a slim figure and soft long wavy hair. My big round eyes were full of expression. What then was wrong with me? I had slightly protruding teeth and I didn’t like it. I wish I had even teeth, I might have been prettier. The evenness of the teeth might have given me self-confidence.
Mother had an overbearing attitude. If she decided on anything, that was final. Nobody, no power on earth could change it or had the courage to defy her. No, not even father who was meek and whittled down by her over the years. He looked like a chipped down piece of wood without any identity of his own. But it was my life. She should have taken my consent. But she didn’t. After Niranjana’s wedding she was in a hurry to send me out of the house with the first available man. Niranjana was everything to her. She doted on her. Niranjana was in love with the son of the richest man in town. They had studied together in college. And his parents came seeking her hand. She was like a reigning beauty queen. And her fiancé adored her. They could see in his eyes how he worshipped her. Mother was too inundated, swamped. She beamed with pride seeing the pair. After the excitement of the marriage subsided and the pair went to US and settled down there, she started searching for a groom for me and zeroed in on Gopi. He was not particularly handsome, but had a good physique, was of medium height and had lots of hair on his head. But what was appalling about him on first sight was his smile. He had even more protruding teeth than mine. But, mother didn’t seem to mind. She took my consent for granted.
“What matters is one’s attitude,” she said. “He is so responsible and mature and don’t think that you are a beauty spectacle.”
My marriage took place in a very simple way. That night I faced the most unexpected thing….the horror and disgust of my first night! I remember how I lay bleeding and in severe pain in the bed while he snored, lying like a question mark. That’s when my hatred for him and for my mother started.
Gopi was very committed to his work, debt free, and owned a small house in a low income group settlement. He never deprived me of anything I needed. I just had to say it once and he would remember and buy it for me. He would come home for lunch every day and expected a good lunch before he went off to his factory again. He was hard working and meticulous with his money. He had big dreams of buying a bigger house in a better locality when his business took off. But till date he was a struggler. Then Tarun came into our life. Slowly I began to be bogged down with an empty and hopeless feeling.
On the one hand my sister was flourishing in the States and her vacationing in India was a very big event to my mother. I hated it all and tried my very best to avoid all partying and get-togethers. I was possessed with the thought of becoming very rich and influential. But Gopi was a contented man, very diligent and waiting for a good break in business.
“Why do you fume and fret? What do you lack now?” he would ask. “We will get what we deserve and mostly only what we are destined for. We have whatever we want as of now. Stop comparing yourself with your sister or anyone else.”
And at other times he would say, “Why don’t you spend your time doing something fruitful for the house?”
But my frustrations began to gnaw at my heart and the emptiness nearly drove me mad. It was at such a time I came across Akshit. He was doing some voluntary work for a newly sprung NGO for women’s cause.
“If you can spare some time, can you join our group for a good cause? There are many things to be done for the underprivileged women. What do you say, Madam?” he asked me one day when he came to distribute pamphlets in my locality.
I was more than happy to work for this NGO. “There are pamphlets to be printed, I will do the writing, but can you decorate it attractively, Madam?” he asked.
“Please don’t address me as Madam. Call me Nisha. That’s my name.”
I sketched a few samples with multi colors. He appreciated my sketches profusely. “My God, you have a natural gift in your hand. Do you know how creative you are? How talented you are?”
I was carried away by his compliments and blushed. He complimented me again for my creative interior decorations. Suddenly at the back of my mind I realized Gopi never complimented me for anything I did. Nothing ever came to his sight. I began to feel more and more drawn towards Akshit, not for his compliments, but for the cause he worked for. That’s how we became good friends. He had his office, not very far from my house, just round the bend. I used to go there and sit in the AC cabin, after completing my routine work at home, and work on the pamphlets.
Then Akshit invited me to his house one day, a grand apartment in Acer’s club. It was where the upper class millionaires lived. I had not seen anything like that before.
He fussed over me a lot, which made me, feel like a queen. He said, “You should change the spelling of your name….it should be Nitxa….see how mod it looks.”
Our meetings became very frequent. Either he would come down to my house and spend time talking intellectual stuff which I wouldn’t understand but feel proud about or I would go his house and sketch the pamphlets. Whenever I went to his house, he made it a point to order lunch for us. And we would eat in style. The day cleaner would come and clean the table.
“You are meant for ruling class and not to be ruled,” he would say.
“Ever since you have come into my life, I feel as if I have found something that I was searching for. I feel so happy in your company. You are so simple, pretty, unassuming, and approachable. Do you know who I am? You will be amazed if I tell you that I’m the only son of the late great lawyer Dr. Ram Anand.”
“So are you also a lawyer by profession?”
“Yes, I’m a Criminal Defense Lawyer. My dad has a law firm in which at least two hundred lawyers are employed. After his death the firm has come to me. The entire burden of running the firm and taking care of the property has ravaged me down. My ancestral property is in Malabar Hill.”
“What about your Mom?”
“My Amma? She’s a terminally ill patient. There are day nurses and night nurses to take care of her.”
“Why then do you do this work for the NGO?”
“I’m not working for the NGO, it is my organization started by me. I got so fed up with my lifestyle and wanted to run away from it all. I wanted to discover myself, wanted to do something totally different. So I came to this suburb and started this NGO. I intend to take it very far. In the mean time, I want to explore my own existence, what am I meant for, what is it that I want in life. And believe it or not, you have helped me a lot in my quest for my identity. I am so comfortable with you. I feel life should go on like this only.”
“What about this house then?”
“This house also is mine, my retreat, and my anchorage.”
“Even if I don’t work you will run the NGO as the Director of this group and earn your name and fame. Even if I am not there, you will take over and continue this work. I will give you sound training.” he said.
I placed my hand on his hand and said, “No, I want to be with you. And work for you.” He took my hand and kissed it. I had never felt swept off my feet like that before. But Akshit got up in a hurry and went to the cabinet to get some papers.
Unconsciously my mind kept comparing him with Gopi who never was a good talker and never ever an intellectual. My irritation level increased when Gopi was around. He didn’t approve of Akshit and his work. He wanted me to concentrate all my attention on the child and home. Our arguments also began to increase both in frequency and in intensity. He bruised my ego everyday and deflated my precious talents and creativity.
“I do not want that man in my house, do you understand?” he told me one day. “All the neighbors are watching this man coming and going when I’m not there at home. You can’t stop their tongues from wagging. You should have some foresight, at least think two steps ahead if not more, before you do anything.”
“Your mind is cheap and low based. How can you even think in those lines?” I screamed.
“Take care of the child, give him food on time, play with him, take him out and spare some time for home; This NGO and all is nothing but eye wash. You are grossly misled.”
“And what is your role in bringing up the child? You are jealous, very jealous that I am slowly beginning to be recognized for my talents.” I said.
“All I can say is that you have gone out of your senses.” he said. The neighbors were gathering to watch the fun. “These low class chawlers have no other work. Your status is also one such only.” I fumed.
But the very next day Akshit dropped in and asked me if I could paint the letterings for the leaflet. Unable to refuse him I began to paint. Tarun had just turned one year old. When he came to me, I shooed him throwing a toy. Akshit picked a baby rattle and dangled it in front of him and Tarun kept quiet. In all this I forgot the time. I heard Gopi coming. In a flash I remembered that cooking was left half way.
But, because he had bruised my ego so much, I continued to paint when he came in. Akshit stood up and said, “Hello Sir, Good Afternoon. I’m sorry I engaged your wife in this work. But she is too good at sketching, you know, and this matter has to go for printing urgently.”
Gopi ignored him and went into the bedroom. Then he came out and asked for lunch. I told him lunch was not prepared. He lost his head and came charging at me, I got up and stood staring in a daze. The next moment he placed a stinging slap on my face. Akshit apologized and begged of him to be quiet. He said lunch would come in a moment and ordered for it. In ten minutes the van came and the delivery boy came in with hot lunch.
“I will serve you, Sir, please sit,” pleaded Akshit. But Gopi banged the door shut and walked out. The neighbors gathered again to watch the fun.
After that day Akshit stopped coming to my house. My relationship with Gopi also strained very much. I was very stubborn and unforgiving for hitting me in front of Akshit and degrading me. I fed my ego and taunted and insulted Gopi at every opportune moment. He ignored it for a long time but when I did it in front of his sister, he flared up and asked me to decide whether I wanted to continue with the marriage or break it and go my way. I was doubly challenged. I decided to punish him in a different way. Whatever I served him, I made it either too salty or too pungent. He would look up at me and push the plate away without a word and eat only rice and curd with pickle. Then he stopped coming home for lunch.
This went on for some time. Then one day to counter me he bought food from out and ate at home and he continued to do this almost every day. My anger blinded me. In the mornings when Gopi would get his shirt to wear, he would find all buttons gone. Then I would stifle a chuckle and watch the fun. He would fasten with pins and go to get his slippers and find the strap broken. He would wear his bathroom slippers and go. At other times I would empty all his shaving cream and fill it with water. When he would press the tube, water would spurt on his face. I stopped celebrating all festivals. Never cooked festive meals. Then he came to me and said, “One day you will regret for all this. Your ego is hundred times your age and it’s not a sign of prosperity, you are digging your own grave.”
Then one morning my neighbor, Mrinal, dropped in casually and said out of concern, “Look Nisha every one goes through frustrations. Communication is a powerful means to bridge people, to break barriers, to break all bias, prejudice, and misunderstandings, and to build up relationships. Please learn to set aside your ego and have a heart to heart talk with Gopi. He’s …..” While she was talking, Akshit’s call came and I was carried away by his cheerful voice. Mrinal shook her head and walked away.
I had Akshit on my side. He was such a relief to me. I remember that day very well, it was my birthday and Akshit had decided to celebrate it in his Apartment. He had invited me in the evening. I packed some food for Tarun and left him in my neighbor’s house requesting her to take care of him only for two or three hours. She readily agreed. I went to Akshit’s house and found the house so well decorated with festoons and balloons. He greeted me warmly and showed off all that he had bought for me, in his boyish pride. His personal valet served me cold drinks and raisins and dry fruits first. Akshit and I kept eating, laughing and talking. We played a game, initially I kept winning but in the final round I lost badly. Again we laughed. He showered compliments on me and finally asked me to cut the cake. The cake was a special one made in the shape of a small house with my name written in calligraphic style. He put on the birthday music and asked me to cut the cake. I cut the cake and first offered him a piece. He laughed and took it from my hand. I ate a piece. It tasted heaven. The music continued and we danced. At first I couldn’t get the steps, he taught me, holding me close to him. I too held his body tight and danced and we laughed and laughed. The house shaped cake looked broken down and dilapidated. The valet removed it from the table. The cold drinks and the dancing made me somewhat dizzy. I enjoyed it nevertheless. Then dinner was served. We both ate hungrily. It was the most memorable birthday I ever had in my life. Finally, when I glanced at my watch it was already midnight.
Suddenly panic struck me, but Akshit said he would drop me and explain the delay to Gopi. When we went home, there was light in my house. I rang the bell and Gopi opened the door. I was aghast to see his sister sitting there and Tarun fast asleep on the sofa curled up without any counterpane.
“I came to wish you on your birthday,” said my sister-in-law. “But looks like you have celebrated differently and are returning at this ungodly hour, if not for Gopi, at least you should have thought of Tarun.”
Akshit began to explain to Gopi but Gopi asked him to get out of the house. “Out, you scoundrel,” shouted Gopi. And turning to me he said, “And you, you have lost your place in this house. You cannot treat this house as a brothel. You are free to leave this house forever. I personally don’t want you anymore. In my eyes and in the eyes of the world you have committed adultery and no self respecting husband will accept such a wife.”
“I did not commit any adultery, it was just that….” I began but Gopi cut me short and said he wouldn’t hear anything more.
Akshit took leave of me and went out. “On humanitarian grounds, I can allow you to stay till day break and then you will leave this house forever.” he said and went into the bedroom. His sister followed him picking the child and they shut the door on my face. I sat on the sofa trembling a little.
In the morning the door opened and Gopi asked me to pack and leave. I packed a few dresses and Tarun’s too and began to go out picking the boy and the bag. I went straight to my mother’s house. I painted a gory picture of Gopi and his sister to her. My mother heard me and took Tarun from my arms.
I expected to hear from Gopi. But there was total silence from that end. I continued to work for the NGO with the same passion and fervor. Now that my mother was around to look after Tarun, I gave myself fully to it. Then my mother asked me one day, “What sort of work do you do? Who are you spending your time with?”
I explained to her about the NGO and its mission. I told her how the NGO is planning to give training to women on making compost fertilizer, basic computer knowledge, health care, family planning, agriculture, opening bank account, and empowering women.
My mother said, “You fool, in what way you are empowered? What are you earning? You are only spending and working like a fool at the cost of your family and child. All these NGOs are meant for rich people who have nothing much to do.”
I told her that she won’t understand unless she saw it and worked for it. She shook her head doubtfully, “Something is awfully wrong with you. I want to meet Gopi and find out.”
I got ready and went to Akshit’s house. He told me they were going to meet a bunch of women and give them training on how to make compost fertilizer. First he taught me and asked me if I could explain to them in their local language how it is made. I readily agreed.
The following days I spent in making new posters, flyers and handbills. Akshit taught me the basics of computer operation and net surfing. I did not have to bother about breakfast, lunch and supper when I was with him. The days passed swiftly and one day I received a legal notice from Gopi for divorce. My anger blinded me again and I felt like teaching him a bitter lesson.
My mother flew into a rage and cursed Gopi for his callousness and irresponsibility. “In the whole history of our family such a thing has not happened. We have never seen court. What is this happening?”
The next evening when I came back from Akshit’s house, she fumed at me accusing me of infidelity and shame. I knew she had met Gopi and he had filled her ears with rubbish. “Gopi came here, he has returned every belonging of yours including the gold and silver, he has wiped his house clean of all your things. And now I know he is a sincere man. The problem is with you. What are you going to do about it?”
I tried to calm her down. But she wouldn’t listen to me. She asked me to go and meet Gopi and ask for forgiveness. She said he might relent. But that very thought was repelling to me.
Gopi had leveled many charges against me that of infidelity, adultery, debauchery, and the like for which he wanted divorce. In response, Akshit filed for ‘incompatibility beyond reconciliation.’ To the court Gopi had come with his sister and I was accompanied by Akshit. Divorce was granted and my marriage was annulled. Alimony was also settled. But who wanted his alimony?
After my divorce my mother turned very bitter towards me. She accused me for everything. Her contempt for me was so very tangible. I was becoming a burden to her. Akshit was my only respite, my only solace. He was so loving and kind and considerate. I expected him to say he would marry me. And it was going to happen soon. He was already having plans to shift me to his apartment permanently and adopt Tarun. That’s what he said, though not directly. He was the only man who understood me thoroughly. If only he married me, I would show my mother how wrong she had been, and it would be a slap on Gopi’s face too and I would be more than equal with my sister. Yes, I loved Akshit like I never loved anyone before.
I was returning home from Akshit’s office one evening and I ran into Setu, he was Gopi’s right hand man. He hailed me and broke the news that Gopi was getting married the following Friday. I couldn’t believe it. I asked who she was. He said her name was Sridevi and that she was a very simple, homely and good girl. He walked away leaving me red faced. Something in me was rudely shaken. I felt the first twinge of pain. But Akshit was there, and on his strength I was dancing all these days. I was sure he would never leave me. He would definitely marry me and we would live happily.
When I went home my mother said she had enough of me, probably she had heard of Gopi’s remarriage. She said she has had a tough time explaining to neighbors and relatives all about the break up. She then went on to say that my sister Nandita was arriving for her first delivery. She did not want me in the house when Nandita came. “Go and find your own means. You never consulted me when you did whatever you did. I had done my duties towards you and got you married to such a nice man. But you have walked out of your marriage, arrogantly. Now you find your own way.”
I was instantly provoked and intimidated. I stuffed some dresses in a shoulder bag and took Tarun and left the house in a huff, banging the door. There was a slight drizzle.
I heard my mother cursing behind me….
It was tea time. Priyanka’s mother served tea and snacks. Tarun looked ill. “Get this child a nutritional health drink when you go out next.” said priyanka’s mother.
The next day Akshit called up and asked, “Where are you? I’m waiting for you in my apartment, I’m missing you. Why didn’t you come yesterday? Can you come soon? I have something to tell you and this will make you happy.”
Nitxa got ready to go and meet him. She was sure he was going to propose to her and they would sit and talk of their marriage. Priyanka gave her a knowing smile and thumbs up. On the way Nitxa bought the health drink for her son. She felt as light as a feather. Akshit was waiting for her in the apartment.
“O! Nitxa, where are you? I’m going to take you to my ancestral house and show you around. What is this you are carrying?”
She said it was a drink for her son. He asked her to leave it in the house and on the way back she could collect it.
They got into his BMW and he drove off to Malabar Hill. His palatial house was a much talked about one. When he turned inside the gate, the security guards saluted him. At one place he stopped the car and told her about the flowers. They got down and walked inside the garden. There were so many varieties of flowers. “If you are here, the garden would look very different and attractive. With all your creativity, this place would look like heaven.” he said.
The ground was wet and slippery and her sandal gave way. “God, my sandal broke,” she said exasperatedly.
He said, “Don’t worry on the way back we will buy a good pair. You can leave it here.” He called for the gardener and asked him to throw away the footwear in the bin. Then they got into the car and drove to the house.
Nitxa was awestruck at the grandeur of the palatial house. As they went in, she felt herself so small in that great hall exquisitely decorated in Georgian style, so typically English in taste. There was a huge built lady sitting at a table at the far end of the hall. They walked up to that table. The lady was heavily bejeweled and was doing some work on a laptop. She had heavy diamond rings on all her fingers. She continued to work and then looked up at them. “Who is she Akshit?” Nitxa asked.
“This is Nitxa, Mamma.” Akshit said.
The fat lady twitched her thick wide painted lips and continued to work, then looked at Nitxa and said, “So what have you come here for?”
“Akshit, you said your Amma is terminally ill. Then who is this?”
“I call my grandmother Amma and my mother Mamma. She is my mother.” he said.
“You are a divorcee with a three year old boy and you have all eyes on my son? What the hell is your plan? Trying to hook my son and usurp all our property? Are you not ashamed of yourself, leaving your husband and walking out of your house? With such a stinking baggage behind you, how can you dream of marrying my son? Do you know our circle? Have you any idea who we are? My son is the only heir to 300 crores property and you, a hoi polloi gutter rat, eying my son and our property!” she went on and on with her barrage of words.
Akshit shrunk in front of her, biting his nails and hanging his head down. “Go away NItxa, go soon, otherwise she will go on insulting you and I won’t be able to bear It.” he said.
Nitxa turned round and fled from there. Then she realized she had no footwear and in a flash realization dawned on her that she had actually come to the streets! The sun baked road scalded her feet. She walked fast and reached the bus stop and got into the bus and sat down with a thudding heart and throbbing head. She was totally numb, her throat was dry; she did not even know where the bus went. The onslaught from that woman called his mother was unexpected and unbearable. She bought a ticket. When she got down at a place familiar, she had just about enough money to buy a pair of bathroom slippers from the roadside hawker. She walked down slowly to Priyanka’s house. The rude shock of the biting insult did not sink into her till she narrated it to Priyanka at night when they were alone in the room. Great sobs rocked her body.
Tarun sat up and tried to reach her to wipe her tears. “Why are you crying mummy? Don’t cry. We will go back to daddy’s house.” Nitxa hugged Tarun and wept bitterly. Priyanka forcefully made her rest by giving her a sedative. She feared Nitxa might have a breakdown.
Nitxa picked up the diary to record the great insult of her life and how she came to the streets. Nitxa, she wrote and scratched it till the page tore and she rewrote Nisha.
After two days of complete rest, Nisha felt better. She called up Akshit in his cell, but the message came that such a number did not exist. So both, Nisha and Priyanka decided to go to the Acer’s apartment to counter Akshit also to get the health drink which Nisha had left on the table.
They rang the bell and a middle-aged man opened the door. He looked enquiringly at them. “We have come to see Akshit,” said Priyanka.
“Come in,” he said and opened the door.
“I had given this house on rent to Akshit for two years. Look at the way he has shifted the furniture. How ugly the room looks!”
Nisha recoiled in shame when she remembered how Akshit had told her to reset the room creatively and she had done it enthusiastically and he had shaken hands with her and praised her lavishly. What a fraud he turned out to be.
“Uncle, we want to meet him,” said Priyanka.
“He has already vacated the house and gone. But he has left a carton in the corner of the room. See if anything in it belongs to you.”
Both of them went to the carton. The health drink was in it and many papers and a big file. Nisha picked up the health drink and the file and opened the file.
Every single pamphlet that she had sketched and painted was there neatly filed. She turned the papers one by one and there, the one she was painting when Gopi had come for lunch was also there. Akshit had said it was urgent and had to go for printing. Why did he do all this? The owner looked over his shoulder and saw what Nisha was doing. He said, “If you want that file you can take it. Akshit threw it there saying it was all childish scrawling and a waste of time.”
His words pierced Nisha. Waste of time? It was Gopi’s lunch time, Tarun’s milk time, her home time, and he called it waste of time?
She threw the file back into the carton.
On their way back, Nisha decided to visit the NGO office where she used to sit and work. There was a remote chance of meeting Akshit in that office. But when they went inside, a stranger was sitting in the cabin and asked them what they wanted. He introduced himself as a Real Estate Agent. Then staring at Nisha said, “You must be Nisha, the divorcee with a three year old son, right?”
Priyanka asked him how he knew it. He opened a drawer and picked out a pamphlet that had Nisha’s photo with Tarun pleading for generous donation. Her name was there alright. But what that man said was even more loathsome. “One Mr. Akshit was supposed to be working for women’s cause. He had uploaded this pamphlet in the net and requested for unconditional donation. I have no idea if the NGO profited by this. And strangely, he does not operate the NGO anymore.”
Priyanka put an arm around Nisha and led her out of the office. They walked in silence through the crowd. Nisha’s cell beeped a message. Priyanka took it from her hand and checked the message. It was from the bank where Nisha had opened an account. The message said Rs. 70,000/- credited to her account by an NGO. Both of them looked at each other in wonder. “Think that you worked for an organization and you have received your pay.” said Priyanka.
The very next day the local newspaper pull out carried a small write up with Akshit’s smiling photo…Eminent Criminal Lawyer to wed his childhood sweetheart……
It was a shocking revelation to Nisha and Priyanka.
Nisha had touched pit, rock bottom of life with the set back and slide down. She had been too blind, slapdash, too greedy, and arrogant to feel the carpet being pulled from under her feet.
Nisha managed to rent a small room in a slum redeveloped building. And initially for a month Priyanka decided to shift to Nisha’s house for moral support. Gradually life fell into a pattern. Now Nisha had to decide what to do with her life.
The next evening both the friends went to the market to get things for the house. They met Setu and his wife, shopping in the market. Setu’s wife walked a few distance and waited for him while he called out to Nisha and opened his hand pouch. He said, “I had been carrying this envelope for so many days now. Gopi had asked me to give it to you. You know he has gone to Czechoslovakia on business. He is now 50% partner of a Czechoslovakian company making cables. He will be there for minimum two years. And I will be spearheading his company here. He has tremendous business strategies and knowledge about cables. He has also booked an apartment in Acer’s club. I shouldn’t be taking too long, my wife won’t like it. She doesn’t approve of your attitudes, you know.” Setu trotted back to his wife. Priyanka opened the envelope and drew out a cheque with a note. The cheque amount was for 2 Lacks, and the note said, ‘Alimony for two years and signed Gopi.’
It was difficult to console the inconsolable Nisha. Finally, when she calmed down, Priyanka said, “Now look, you got to be practical. You will open an FD account and deposit one lakh in it and put the remaining in savings. You will get good returns. Be frugal in your spending. You have to work now for your living. Join a 6 months computer course, it won’t be expensive and you are sure to get a decent job. Once you land in a job, life will come in your grips. You are just about 23 years old. There’s so much to life still.”
Ten days later Priyanka and Nisha were on their way to a Mall, surprisingly they happened to see Akshit standing on the steps outside the Mall. Both of them hurried towards him and encountered him. “Why did you do all that you did with me?” Nisha asked in loud voice. Akshit turned round and said,
“Oh, Hi Nisha, I was going to meet you and explain everything, but there was no time. I did all that because I wanted to teach my Mother a good lesson. And, you know, she came round. She was objecting to my marriage, not approving of my sweetheart. So what if she is of a different caste? I love her and she loves me. So I wanted to give her a bigger shock. And she got it through you. Now she says Kushboo is any day better. Our marriage is fixed. By the way you too taught your Gopi a good lesson right, for wife-beating and all that? But I tell you Gopi was a very simple and genuine man. Moreover, you wanted to taste luxury, you were unhappy in that chawl like house, you were a willing party, and so I took my chance; didn’t you enjoy everything? It was fun, wasn’t it?”
Just then a pretty lady walked out of the Mall and called out to Akshit.
“I have finished with my shopping, Aki. Who is that woman? What does she want?”
“Oh, she? She was my client. I helped her to get divorce. Her husband was a wife-beater, you know. Poor lady and I didn’t charge her anything. Now she was just thanking me for all the help.”
“Oh, baby, you are such a darling, helping people in their need. God will bless you for it.” she said.
Akshit slid his arm around her waist and they walked towards his car and got in. The car cruised ahead leaving a cloud of dust behind.
(A true life story.……)