Another case of rape.. When is it going to stop? Or is it ever?
Every time I come across a case of rape, I am reminded of a past that I hold. It takes a toll on my mood and I go down the memory lane. Fifteen years ago, I was a carefree, innocent and young girl of 17 years. The only child of my parents and a darling of my father. I wouldn’t say I was from a rich family but my father was an educated and was regarded as an influential person in our town. He and my mother had protected me throughout – shading me from every sorrow, doing everything for me… in short, I never had to step out of my house on my own. Neither that I wanted it. I was dependent on them for a life that would give me only happiness. I had a life like that of a fairy tale and I often wondered of my Prince Charming. No wonder people say that fairy tales are a myth. None of it lasted.
I was a bright child and the pride of my father. I was well-behaved, well-taught and obedient. All the values which I had in me were a giving of my parents. And I was in 12th, a science stream student. I was preparing for my board exams after which I had many dreams of my career. I often thought what I would end up becoming. I had so many options. Even my friends said that I could be anything I wanted as I was extremely talented. I had a hobby of reading books and writing my mind. Sometimes I wished I could be a writer. But my parents thought otherwise and I felt it as my duty to first satisfy their desire before I satisfied mine. After all, they had done so much for me. So, well I had on my mind to give the exam for IIT-JEE and I had also been taking tuitions for it.
The destination for my Physics tuition was a bit on the outskirts of our city where the population was less. My father had been reluctant to send me there but I was adamant. That tutor was the best we had and most of my friends had been studying there… even Abhishek. Abhishek was one of my best friends since class IX just as I was his. But even then, we didn’t have contact numbers. Whatever time we spent together was in class or in tuitions. It hadn’t mattered before but lately, it had started to. I had started to look forward to meeting him and talking to him. Somewhere, we were moving ahead from just friends. But we never voiced it. We both were serious towards our studies and we knew it was not the time. Nevertheless, we looked forward to each other’s company.
As I said, Physics tuition was far from where I lived so my father always came to pick me and drop me. On rare cases, my mother would come. Sometimes, I felt irritated. Why couldn’t I have the freedom that others had? The shield that was protecting me was taking away my freedom. That was the reason I hadn’t told them that sometimes I used to go for a scooty ride with Shreya. Shreya was another friend of mine and she was very independent. She used to do everything on her own and she came to Physics tuition via scooty. At times, we would arrive early and she would take me for a ride on her scooty after my father left. We would return before tuition started. I looked forward to these rides as they made me feel happy.
It was during one of those rides when we had stopped for tea at a cottage like place. She had told me they made awesome tea. They really did. So now, tea came free with rides. Every week, there was one day on which she took me for a ride and we would also go for tea. Everything was going well till on that day in the month of August. It had started drizzling by the time we reached the tea shop. So we had to wait there even after having tea. We had no option than to miss tuition that day. And we were worried. The cottage was different that day. It was crowded and there was a bunch of boys who were continuously hooting and shouting and commenting in our direction. They were barbaric and one of them was continuously glaring in our direction. I was disturbed and afraid. Shreya too felt that we must leave and we did. Rain had slowed down and she dropped me home and left for hers. I told my parents that tuition was cancelled. They didn’t question me further. However I was disturbed and we left going for rides.
But seems like the clouds had not gone even then. A few days later, while waiting outside our tuition, Shreya and I spotted one of those boys we had seen at the tea shop. And from that day onwards, it was a regular. He was there all the time we were there. And it was disturbing us. On occasions when she didn’t come, I had to endure alone. And so, we had started coming late for tuitions. But soon, it was not just Physics tuition. I spotted him wherever I went. Physics tuition, Chemistry tuition, Mathematics tuition….. I was mighty irritated and I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid of telling it to my father. Perhaps, I was afraid to talk my mind. Besides, I didn’t know whether staring was a crime and dangerous and I knew my restrictions would increase once they came to know of it. It was a mistake I made. I was bad in taking decisions.
I was mad at Abhishek. How could he say that I was a coward, a fearsome girl who had no sense of independence? And what right did he have to order me to speak my problem to my parents? And why the hell did Shreya have to confide in him about that barbaric? Granted Abhishek was her friend too but he was my best friend. And now, Abhishek was angry at me for hiding this and hence the adjectives. So even I was angered. Throughout the tuition, we didn’t talk and Shreya had not come. After tuition as I started to leave, Abhishek came.
“Don’t leave alone. Uncle might be coming.”
“What is it to you? I can handle my affairs and I am not a coward. I can go home alone.”
“Don’t be stupid Smriti.”
“I am not stupid. And you have no right to call me so. Just go. Okay. Go to your Shreya. Just go.” I shouted.
He narrowed his eyes and his calm face was replaced with anger again. “Fine.” He uttered and left.
I too gathered my belongings and started walking. Dad might be on the way. He would pick me up on the road itself. I was trying to be brave. Besides, I was aware of a vehicle behind me and I knew it was Abhishek. I was glad of his presence even though I was still ungrateful enough to turn and thank him for accompanying me. It was mighty dark even at 6 pm as it was the month of December and the road was very quiet. I was walking fast and wondering what had taken so much time for my father to reach me. Just then, the bike overtook me and stood in front. I raised my head stubbornly to look up at Abhishek but it was that BARBARIC.
I shivered. Then I started going backwards. He got down and came running towards me. I was walking faster and he caught me. I screamed and pushed him. He laughed evilly. I said “Kya hai?? Choro mujhe and jao yaha se.” He continued his advances. That was when I slapped him and somehow gathered myself to run towards my tuition. I ran wishing someone would just come. He came again on his bike. The bike was running close to me and then I suffered a blow and I screamed as I fell on the ground hurting my knee. Barely had I gotten up when I suffered another blow and stumbled again. I was screaming loudly and then he caught my throat. I was fighting but I was no match for his strength. I had never been a sports person and panicked as I was, I just struggled till he again threw me and as I tried to regain my breath, a napkin covered my face even as I pushed him. But the napkin had done its work, I was unconscious.
It seemed like days had passed when I opened my eyes. I struggled to breathe. My throat felt dry, hands felt numb, body ached and there was a tearing pain. I felt strange and uncomfortable as I tried to remember the last time my eyes were open. The memory of it made me shudder and I realized I was terribly cold. I tried to move my hands and found them cuffed together. Even my legs were cuffed and they pained terribly. I moved my eyes. Some type of cottage it was. Fire was burning close and beside it were clothes… my clothes. I gasped as I looked down. A sack was kept over me. What the hell had just happened???
I screamed, cried and coughed as realization hit me. It was all over. Everything. The worst had happened. What was left? Nothing. I should be dead. I should die. That was all I could think of. I saw the fire. I wriggled and tried to move. I screamed again in pain and coughed terribly. I would die like this only. No one knew where I was. There was nothing except a fire. I would die hungry, thirsty and naked. The tears were blinding me and my mind refused to function. My body refused to move even an inch. I had suffered bruises at different parts on my body. I lay there as my eyes closed again.
A bucket of water was poured over my face and I woke up gasping to find HIM. He caught my throat again. “Saali tera baap to piche hi par gaya hai. Ab to ek hi rasta hai. Hum bhag jayega aur tu yahi para rahega aise hi. Tumko marega nahi. Taki tumhara baap dekhe tumko aur tum pura zindagi yad rakhe ye raat aur murda bani rahe aise hi jese do din se hai. Batana apne baap ko ki do raat me maza aya ya ni… “ He laughed barbarically as he left my throat again. I saw him get out of the cottage after he had extinguished the fire too. I had no voice. Two nights. I felt the end now. I was dying. My body may be discovered after few days. But he would be gone. I remembered my father, my mother even as my eyes closed again. Before my eyes closed completely, I witnessed several voices of people and someone entered in the cottage. Then my eyes could see no more.
I was dead and my soul was somewhere where everything was white. The pain had gone. I felt free. I could move myself and I felt some energy. So this was what happened after death. And I was no longer covered. I was dressed in white too. I moved my eyes and head. There were several machines. I tried to think. In which place were so many machines and everything so white? Machines and heaven didn’t go together. Then someone came. He was in white. An angel? He asked me “Smriti. Can you hear me?” He knew my name.
“Who are you?” I found my voice.
“A doctor…. How are you feeling?”
Doctor…. My mind raced inside. Doctors treat people. They are angels. But they are people. That means I am on earth. “I… Am I dead?”
He smiled. “No no Smriti. You are ill. That’s all. I am going to call your parents.”
I was not dead. Not yet. And my parents were here with the doctor. And I was breathing. I was no more hungry. Was I on saline? Things began making sense. Then my father and mother entered. I smiled little. They were crying. Papa stroked my head. No one spoke anything. Then my father went. Mummy remained. She caressed me as I slept again.
I did not know then that I had remained at the hospital for two weeks. But during the whole time, I hadn’t seen anyone except my parents and the doctor. I rarely opened my eyes. But always I found my mother beside me. Sometimes, I saw her weeping silently. So she knew. Everyone knew. Even papa. What was going on?
“Where is papa? He doesn’t come to see me”. I told my mother one day.
“He will come after he has finished his work. You rest.” She had tears in her eyes. Why was she crying so much? It was irritating. I wanted to get out of the hospital.
I woke up as I felt someone stroking my hairs. “Papa…” I whispered.
He smiled. “We are going home today.”
“Did you finish your work?” I asked him innocently.
He kissed my forehead. “Give me few more days”.
I was taken home that day. But we had travelled by flight and then train. I wondered how far had I been from home. Back at home, I bombarded my mother with questions. She was very patient. She told me I had been in a hospital in Delhi as I had been very ill. And now we were back home so she would cook my favorite dishes and everything. “Very ill?????”I wondered whether she didn’t know. Then I understood. They didn’t know that I knew. But what did they think then? That I had been unconscious about everything. That is how they found me and the doctors may have found that I had been made unconscious. But they didn’t know that I had woken up thrice during those days. I KNEW. But I didn’t say anything.
I was lost in thoughts when my father came. He hugged me. “I finished my work Smriti.” I racked my brain. Then I whispered. “What did you do Papa?” He looked at me then. He understood that I knew. No use hiding. He said, “I got you justice. He would be hanged till death.” I got up and went to my room. I was crying uncontrollably. My mother came and tried to quieten me but I was not able to. And then I became unconscious.
Health wise, I was fine. But something was terribly wrong. I could not sleep peacefully now that I had recovered from illness. Even sleeping pills did not last throughout the night and I would wake up in middle and cry or be in deep thoughts. My parents were unaware of that though. They only knew that I needed pills to make me sleep. Throughout the day, I would sit and do nothing. I didn’t know what had come over me. I felt paralyzed at home. And there was no place where I would go and neither was I taken. I was not in contact with anyone except my parents. They thought it was best to let me be for a few days. However when I refused to talk even to them, they felt it was going way too far and I couldn’t spend all of my life this way.
One day Shreya came asking for me. Had my mother not been worried about making me talk, she would not have let her in. I was in my room flipping a magazine. Seeing Shreya brought a smile on my face. We talked. Nothing deep but usual chit chat. She had brought me notes of the past month. Board exams were just two months away. I needed to study. I told her I didn’t want to. And she asked whether I was planning to get married and have kids. I looked up confused.
“Smriti, do you realize that whatever it is, you cannot remain in your room forever? Aunty told me that you sit idle all the time. How is that supposed to help any of you? At least complete your education yar. Give your intermediate exams. Study. You have time. “
“How is studying going to help? How am I supposed to step out of the house? With.. with this… People will say so many things. Papa too would not want me to continue my studies. And I do not think I would be able to concentrate. I am just unable to find ease and peace. It irks me Shreya. Why me?????”
“I cannot answer that question Smriti. You are well aware that in India every twenty minutes, a girl is raped. Girls are victims here who have to be protected from everything. Your father punished your culprit. But you cannot be a victim throughout your life. Can you live like this forever? You should think of your life and become independent first of all.”
DON’T MISINFLUENCE MY DAUGHTER. Papa had entered my room.
I KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR HER AND I HAVE ALREADY PLANNED. YOU MAY LEAVE.
SMRITI I WILL TALK TO YOU ONCE SHE IS GONE. I DON’T WANT OUTSIDERS TO INTERRUPT IN FAMILY MATTERS. BESIDES, SHE PLAYED ENOUGH PART IN LANDING YOU WHERE YOU ARE. HAD YOU NOT GONE ON SCOOTY RIDES, NOTHING OF THAT SORT WOULD EVER HAVE HAPPENED.
Whaaaat??? So according to him, I was raped because I had some fun. I do not know what made me so angry at that moment but seemed as if I was mighty ready to burst.
“Papa… Do you mean that I was raped because I had some fun? Just because I did not tell about it to you? What was wrong in that? I just happened to be there. It could have been anyone. The point is… Do you think I am to blame for what happened? I admit that I made one mistake of not telling you about someone following me. I was afraid you would cancel my tuitions. Was I wrong? Was it wrong on my part to live my life? Aren’t there so many girls who go to tuitions and roam about everywhere alone and free?? What is my fault papa? It could have been just anyone. What is MY fault that it was me???? And now you mentioned it, I guess I WOULD BE DEAD BY NOW IN THAT COTTAGE HAD SHREYA NOT PLAYED ENOUGH PART IN RESCUING ME. Or do you wish I was dead rather than being a burden?”
I most certainly would have been slapped then had my father not felt that I was weak enough. He stared and then left. I collapsed on my bed. I had spoken enough. Shreya watched me for a while and left without the notes. I watched mummy weep silently. How was I going to lead my life? When was everything going to be normal?
Papa came at night in my room. He looked much shaken. I was going through Shreya’s notes at that time. I looked up to him and waited. He sat beside me and kept his hand on my head.
“I am sorry Smriti. I should have done this long before. I should have talked to you, asked your mind. But I was distraught. I didn’t know how to protect you from people talking outside so I felt it was better for you to be inside. I was afraid you would not be able to contain yourself. I was afraid I would not be able to soothe you so I did not talk to you. I was myself worried. Worried about who would marry you. Then I thought to do the work in hand. I thought I had fulfilled my duty by punishing your culprit. But I was wrong. My duty is to make you happy. Tell me Smriti, what do you want? Do you want to study?”
“I want to be independent papa. Not at someone’s mercy. And I do not want to get married.”
“Not now, I mean later. I will find someone good enough. There may be someone.”
“I AM not getting married.”
“Smriti, this is a male dominant society. You would need someone..”
“Papa I said I want to be independent. Marriage is a part of life but it is just a part and if that part is not meant for me, then it is ok. I am not getting married just so that someone is there to protect me. If I ever get married, it would be if I find someone to spend my life with. Not otherwise. And I want to study, yes. But I am yet to decide my career. First, I want to complete my boards. And I would not go for tuitions, if you feel that would be a problem. But I need notes from Shreya so please allow that.”
He kept his hand on my head once again and left.
Board results were out. I had secured an 80%. I was neither happy nor sad. I would have scored much more had those months never came. But then again, I would not have given exams had my perspective not changed. I had so much to do, so much to think. I wasn’t doing engineering anymore. I expressed my desire to papa. He didn’t understand why I wanted to study literature but he agreed to support me. He agreed to send me out of our hometown. I needed to go to a different setting and establish myself. I needed to change myself. So I was admitted in B.A. in a college in Ahmedabad. I lived in a girls hostel but I had my maternal uncle there who was my guardian. For three years, I studied there and along with studies, I wrote articles, stories, poems. Some of them got printed in my college magazines. I got awards for literary competitions too but I was waiting for more to come.
After B.A., I pursued my M.A. During that time, I seldom came home. My parents were the ones who would come and visit me. I was busy in my life. At times, I would talk to Shreya. She was my best friend. She told me once that Abhishek wanted to talk to me. I refused. I didn’t feel like. I had made few friends at Ahmedabad – all hostellers. We would go in our free time for a stroll or for movies. But they were unaware of my past. Not that I was hiding. They never asked. I never told.
It was 4th October, my 22nd birthday. I no longer felt special on my birthday. It was just an ordinary day for me and my parents were the only ones who wished me. I didn’t accept calls from anyone else. I had stopped that long ago so now no one did that. However, Shreya texted me as usual. She had been an awesome friend all along. I smiled thinking about her and replied a “Thank you”.
“Kiske khayalo me dubi ho birthday girl?” I could recognize this voice anywhere because for the last 5 years, this girl had been practically eating my ears with her voice. “No offence sweetheart but kabhi to kuch bta diya kro, mystery girl.” I smiled at her. Ritz. Short for Ritika. My roommate, batchmate, classmate and a very good and only friend since the last five years. If not for her, I would have remained friendless here. She was the one who just refused to let me be in my loneliness. Despite my stubbornness, she would drag me to shopping, to movies, to hangout joints with friends and to life. And she didn’t ask. Not because she knew I would not tell. She knew I would tell her as it is practically impossible to refuse her anything. But she also knew that I did not want to tell whatever my secret was and she respected that. And I love her for that. And so does everyone. She is everyone’s friend and one of the toppers. And her boyfriend’s “cherrie”. 😉
She came and sat beside me. “Why can’t you celebrate your birthday?”
“Ritz…. Why do you ask me the same question every year?” “Because you don’t answer stupid.”
“There’s no answer. I don’t feel like.” “Alright, I will make you feel like. I have something for you.”
“Offo… I don’t want gifts.” “He is not a gift.”
“He????? What do you mean by he?” “Guess guess”
“Ritz yar please. Don’t crack such jokes. Let this day be like a normal day na. That gives me pleasure.”
“I wish it did Smriti. But it doesnot. Atleast I know this much since the past 5 years. Well whatever… Its 5:30 already. Go down in the meeting room. Someone has come looking for you.”
“What? Who??” “I do not know.” Saying so, she left. Now I had only one option. To go down and meet this ‘he’. I was not worried about Ritz. She would come over. She can’t stay angry because she can’t hold her tongue.
I walked towards the meeting room. And I stood fixed by whom I saw. Something deep stirred inside me. A sudden rush of emotions accompanied by a shiver. I wanted to sit down and I suddenly felt thirsty. My eyes refused to look at the person standing before me. They preferred the ground. But this made me feel guilty so I forced them to look up though not at him but past him.
He started walking towards me. “Hi.” “Hi Abhishek.” The words came out with great difficulty. My voice was feeling stuck. I wanted to go back upstairs. I didn’t want to meet him. I just didn’t know where did he come from but I didn’t want to know. I wanted to go away from him and his accusing eyes. I looked away.
“Can we talk Smriti?” I stared. He has come to talk to me. He has been trying to for so long and now he has finally come and he won’t go till I talk to him. Its useless to make excuses now. He has not come here to take any of those dumb reasons I gave to Shreya while refusing to talk to him. I sighed. “Come with me.”
I took him to a park nearby which usually remained deserted and hence was my favorite spot. I was not afraid with him alone. I knew I could trust him. We sat there on a bench. I didn’t know what was going to transpire between us in the next few hours but I had a feeling that perhaps this was for the better.
“Chalo atleast you remember my name.” He started with a remark.
“That’s the least I could do.” I replied. I don’t know why I was being defensive but I was suddenly feeling angry at him. Why did he have to come now? Where was he for 5 years? Granted, he tried to contact me but he should have come then. Why now? And why the hell was I feeling so defensive? Its been 5 years and I still am behaving like I have got all the right on him as if he is still only my best friend.
He stared. “And you indeed did the least Miss Smriti Pathak.”
“Why are you here? Go away.” “You want me to go away?”
“I do not want anything. I am happy the way I am.” “Are you talking to me or yourself?”
“Why are you here Abhishek? Why did you come to reopen my past? Why can’t I move on from a past I suffered? Do I not have the right?” I claimed and reasoned at the same time.
He looked into my eyes as I drank his sight. His features hadn’t changed much but he looked much more matured and understanding. His face had tanned but he was still handsome. What? Where did that come from? I hastily looked away, afraid he would read my last word.
“Your right is to be happy. But you are just faking it. You are not happy. You can move on but you have not. You behave as if you are happy alone but you are not. You still need a friend.”
“For God’s sake Abhi, its not about a friend. I do have good friends here.”
“None who know your past so they do not know you from the past. Only I and Shreya do. And Shreya has played her part well. Its my chance now.”
“You don’t owe me anything. Its not a duty you have to do. I am fine…”
“Are you a dumb idiot????? You think I have come here as it is a duty????? As if I have been spending sleepless nights at times because I have been unable to fulfill my duty. Are you seriously so dumb?? Don’t you know I care for you? I would have come to meet you long before had I known your place. I tried meeting you at home but you seldom came there. And Shreya told me it was not right to meet you and you seldom talked to anyone and that you refused to talk to me. Can you even imagine how that felt?? My best friend refused to even talk to me. Why???? Don’t I deserve an answer?? It is not about what happened. It is about what the consequences were. I thought you would talk to me and I would ease your every suffering. In the beginning, I waited for your call everyday as I didn’t know how to contact you. Then Shreya told me your situation. And I wanted to meet you which I knew was impossible. So I talked to her to have news of you. Next I knew, you were here. And I in DU. I too kept busy but not one day did I not miss you girl. I was in contact with Shreya all along in the hope that one day I would contact you. You never came for holidays and even your parents shifted from there. Then I decided to give you some time. I had news of you from Shreya but I didn’t contact you. I waited for today Smriti. And I couldn’t waste the day I had waited for so long. I had to meet you. So I came. I came for my best friend. I am looking for her. Can I meet her please? I miss her Smriti.”
Strange but he still felt as if he was my own, my cherished possession. I hugged him even as I struggled to stop my tears. Why didn’t I contact him myself? How could I have judged him to be like the others who spoke at my back? How could I have feared something like that from him? He was my best friend. And he still is. And I smelled his deodorant. And broke from the hug abruptly. ‘Best friend only’. I repeated in my head.
We walked to a coffee shop nearby even as I recounted details of my life there to him. I didn’t stop at anything. I talked like I hadn’t talked since that incident. We also talked about that but he took care not to talk beyond my comfort limit.
It was 8pm when he dropped me at my hostel. We exchanged numbers and with a “See you tomorrow”, he left. I went upstairs and finding Ritika, hugged her tightly. She was stiff at first but seeing my happiness, she gave in. “So this was the secret. Boyfriend was the reason.” I stared. What? Who gives her those ideas? “He only told me” She defended herself.
I texted him, “When did you become my boyfriend?”
“She made me. The moment she met me she made stories of you being the way you are because of your long lost love that is me. She herself told that and then asked. I just shrugged. She took that for a yes, I guess.” He replied.
Ritika could be so…. mad. Huh. “Sorry about that. She kind of assumed.”
“Hey, I do not have a problem with the boyfriend tag. ;)”
“I see. So do you have a girlfriend?”
“No silly. Not till now. You?”
“No. Acha ttyt. Bye.”
“You should make one.”
I didn’t reply him not because I was busy but because that was a touchy topic for me. I hadn’t been in touch with any boys at school and I didn’t make any friends here. Some showed interest in me but I never accepted their advances. They didn’t know of my past and perhaps no one wanted to. They moved on. I didn’t know where he was heading with that last text. Neither did I want to. I was happy with his friendship. I didn’t want to spoil that. It took me so long to come out of my shell. I was happy now, with three great friends. I didn’t need a boyfriend. I wanted a carrier for myself first and I wanted to be independent.
I almost told him all this the next day we met outside my college. I was becoming like my older self and it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide things from him. “Then what are your plans for future?”
“After my M.A., I want to do M.Phil. and then P.hd. and side by side I want to pursue my dream hobby. I want to be an author and I am working on that.”
“And after that?”
“What more do you want me to do Mr.??”
“Ni I want you to do a lot of things. But let’s leave me aside and talk about you. Do you have any plans for marriage?”
“Why the hell are people after my marriage? I do not want to marry. And I do not want this discussion.”
“You never said before that you are against your marriage.”
“I wasn’t raped before dammit.” I was being defensive again and I was directing my anger on him.
“Are you paralysed or what??? Why are you behaving like an age old fool? Nothing like this exists anymore. You have all the right to marry and be happy.”
“And who will marry me after knowing it? And I won’t hide this fact from the one I am supposed to marry.”
“Have you ever tried? Anyone would marry you idiot. You are such a beautiful person.”
“Why are we having this discussion? Don’t behave like my parents. And if anyone wants to marry me, he will come and say that, right? Only then will I tell him.”
“Is there no one you love so far?” He tried to sound casual and I missed to notice that.
“I have stopped thinking of all that. I will try it once someone says that to me.”
“Nice idea. Chalo then, meet you tomorrow.”
I didn’t know what happened. But I was fine. I returned to my hostel unaware of what awaited me.
Next day, I got a text from him. “Kakariya. 4 pm. I will come to pick you up and make sure you are safe.”
“Okay.” He didn’t reply back.
I got ready. I don’t know but I wanted to look atleast fine. I wore a white kurti having pink thread work and matched it with pink dupatta and pink leggings. I left my hair open for the first time in years and completed the look with kohl and pink gloss.
He was there exactly at 4 and in white shirt and blue jeans. It somehow felt like a formal date even though we both tried hard to make it look an informal hangout. Nevertheless, we reached Kakariya. I had been there before so it was more like I took him there. I showed him spots I liked. But even though I had visited this place before, I never had that kind of fun for which this place was meant to be. Abhishek made me feel free of what was holding me till then. We did some sporty stuff after he persuaded me to. And I had fun and excitement all along even as I enjoyed being with him. And even though I knew he would be gone in two days, I wanted to enjoy whatever time we had.
We, or rather I was tired after sometime and felt hunger pangs in my stomach. So we decided to stop for a while and eat. We were still halfway to complete a full circle. This was the first time I would be seeing the entire park at once. At other times, I would usually exit from any of the nearest exits whenever I wanted. But today I was determined and I was enjoying myself. After eating, it was 7:00 pm. As I had to reach hostel by 9 so it was necessary that we left by 8. So we hurried towards the hot air balloon which was the last point. Abhishek made me wait while he went on for tickets. Then we went towards the entrance. It was a surprise for me that not a single person was inside the sitting area of the balloon. The ride was of 15 minutes and in this ride the balloon took the people vertically up and down in the air and its maximum accommodation was 20. Naturally, I was surprised to see the sitting area empty. But I didn’t say anything then. We got in.
It felt so heavenly. That ride. We were still inside it. All the fresh air and wind blowing in my face and with him beside me, I was howling and laughing. He laughed with me even as he made sure I didn’t lose my balance. I hugged him and whispered a “Thank you.” He simply sat there. But he was looking into me. It took me a while to notice that not once had he looked away from me. As the realization dawned, I blushed. I looked into his eyes this time. My heart beat raced. He looked so serene and his eyes so true. I could trust him in the whole wide world. There was something new in those eyes, longingness. ’For me?’ My heart asked. ‘Shut up.’ My mind said.
I didn’t know where to look. He refused to look away, my heartbeat refused to go down and the wind refused to slow down. My hairs were blocking his gaze. His hand came up on my face. I closed my eyes as his touch did strange things to me. I was breathing hard. And then he whispered softly, “I love you Smriti. I have done that all along. Since the time we were friends but I realized that in the past years when you were not with me. I cannot lose you again. Will you be mine?” I was swept off my feet at such a sincere proposal. Drops of water came on my face. I was wondering why I was crying when I felt them on my hands to. It was raining.
We realized it then that 15 minutes were over and people were waiting in line to come. Plus, it was raining. We hurried towards the exit. It was 7:50 pm. We hired a taxi and left. Inside, he sat beside me and I was breathing hard even now and even shivering as I was wet. He too was. The taxi driver switched on A.C. so that we felt comfortable. Abhishek rested his right hand on my right shoulder as he sat on my left. His warmth engulfed me. I subconsciously rested my head on his chest and drank the fragrance of his wet white shirt. We sat together silently watching the rain outside. And I don’t know when I felt so comfortable that I slept.
“Smriti, we reached your hostel.” I opened my eyes. The rain had stopped and I was fully conscious of our proximity now. I frowned. What the hell had he done? How could he propose me knowing the truth fully well? And how could I have accepted his advances even symbolically? I raised my head and got down the taxi.
“Smriti?” I looked up to him. He was already thinking of us as a couple. No. I said in my head. “No.” I found my voice. My voice shivered as my body felt deprived of his warmth.
“Whaaat?” He was visibly confused. And I too. “No. I cant be yours. I am sorry. And you can return now. Bye.”
I somehow managed and then I ran inside. Perhaps, he was too shaken to follow. I didn’t even turn back once. I halted straight in my room and changed. Ritika was perhaps in some other room. I was exhausted and my mind was racing. I opened my drawer and took out my sleeping pills which I had promised not to take to the person who was now the reason for my need of taking it. I didn’t want to think of it now. I lay on my bed and fell into a deep slumber.
Ritz woke me up in the morning. It was a Sunday. And my head ached. I made some coffee for myself and went in our balcony. And what did I see? Abhishek was dozing off on a bench in the lawn outside the hostel. What the f…?
I checked my phone. “I am waiting.” Damn. Atleast I should have clarified things to him. If only I knew he still was so stubborn. I hurried downstairs.
“Good morning.” I greeted him and handed him a mug of coffee as he woke up. “After a bad night, I finally had a good morning.” He took the coffee. “You are funny, you know. And you are my best friend. And we are always in contact from now on. But I am sorry. I can’t be with you. It’s not possible. Try and understand.”
“So it’s a bad morning after all.” He just said that with a sarcastic smile.
“What?” “Nothing.” “Atleast answer me.”
“I did.” “What type of answer was that?” “Just the type I learnt from you.”
“Fine.” I said, my anger rising up again. “Go then. What were you waiting for? Bye.” I said and stood up.
“Why the hell are you getting angry? I am supposed to be angry and you are supposed to say a yes and make me happy.”
“Have you gone dumb? Do you not understand that I can’t be yours?”
“You didn’t make me understand.” “You are not a kid.”
“Can you at least tell what I am supposed to understand?”
“What is it to tell? You already know everything. You can’t possibly marry me.”
“I think when I asked you to be mine, I meant marriage. But if I was not clear, I am sorry. Will you marry me?” He was barely controlling his anger by now.
“Damn you Abhishek. Why do you want to marry a girl who had been raped twice and who has still not recovered?”
I spilled. And I saw the anger on his face. I indeed knew how to touch a nerve. I gasped. He grabbed my shoulders and brought my face closer to his. His eyes were blazing with anger. He shook me even as he tried not to put force on my shoulders. His jaw tightened and he spoke, “Because, FYI I love you, you damn silly stupid girl. I have fallen for you. And I can’t move on from you. This is what I want. I want to marry you and be with you forever. But you know what, I would have moved on from your life if you had someone else or you had nothing towards me. I would have remained just a faithful friend then. And I came here to discover your feelings. And I can’t go now because I know that you too love me, only you are afraid that being with me would be bad for me. But I want to assure you that it is not so. No one will come in our way. We do deserve each other. You make me happy. Your past is nothing to me. And I will make you so happy that your past would not exist even in your shadows.” His face showed a varied range of emotions even as he spoke. Anger to longingness to love and just love. I knew he loved me. I also knew I loved him. And I couldn’t marry him. I couldn’t spoil his life. If I married him, people who knew us from our hometown would find excuses to talk. I can’t bear him to take all this upon himself. Besides, his family. Will they accept?
“Say what you think, please.”
“It’s not right. People will talk. And your family…”
“My family has seen me pining for you. They know I will die if they oppose my love for you.”
“You cannot force me Abhishek. I am just not ready.”
“I am not. I am sorry if you felt so. I just think that you love me too. But if you want time to realize that by yourself, it’s fine by me. Let me know when you are ready. We will be in touch.”
“And what will you do till then?”
“Pine some more for my future beloved.” He winked and stood up to leave.
He was such an awesome guy. Anybody would love him. And he loved me. And was willing to wait even if it took forever. Was I exaggerating? What had remained? Wasn’t I myself sticking to my past and refusing to let go? People had tried a lot to keep me happy. My parents, Shreya, Ritz. But I was unhappy and keeping everyone who loved me, unhappy. Why was I being so selfish? Shouldn’t I grab the one guy I loved and love even now. Haven’t I suffered already? Didn’t I deserve happiness with him?
I stared at his back as he walked. I watched him walk away from me. I waited. Things processing in my brain. I needed him to love me. I wanted him to stop. I wanted to live with him. I…. He stopped and turned. We looked into each other. And the next second, I ran into his arms. “I love you.” “Me too.” We stood like that for sometime. Then we broke from our hug and he smiled broadly while I blushed.
“Guess my pining is no longer needed. Should I send my parents to your house?”
“What? So soon. I am yet to finish my M.A. and get a job.”
“Okaay. So… Let us be a couple then. You do your M.A. I do mine. You get a job. I make my career. That would take minimum 2 years. Then we can marry. But if it takes longer than that. I am coming with my baraat to marry you and if you dare to refuse me dear girl, I will throw you………. On our bed after putting vermillion on your head. And mind you, I will not spare you even a bit till we get our twins.” He blabbered and I couldn’t help but laugh and blush simultaneously. Then he smiled. “I am not kidding, sweetheart. I mean all of it. And even more if you blush like this.” And he smiled dangerously devilish. I blushed hard and he hugged me.
“Shhhh…. You are so naïve. It would take some time for you but I know that eventually you will be your older and bolder self and would defeat me in lines.”
Thus started our love story. We did complete our respective careers and while I got a job, he joined services. One fine day, he sent his parents to mine. My parents knew no other happiness. They were thrilled that I had finally decided to hug happiness. We married soon after. And two years after that, we had twins – Ahana and Shaurya. We were happy in our little world and I was busy in my house with a loving husband and two growing up kids. I had forgotten my little dream of being a writer. I no longer felt passionate towards it. I enjoyed cooking too. However as my kids grew up and started school, I was free and it did bore me. I would read newspapers and rape cases would disturb me. At first, I tried to get over it myself. But I had changed so drastically since my marriage that not a single thing about my mind and heart could escape Abhishek’s notice. He would give me time to speak it myself and if I didn’t, he would force it out. Same happened.
One night after dinner as I tucked our kids to bed, he decided it was time that I tell him what I had been thinking all along. I did. “Why don’t you utilize your free time?” “How?”
“Do you want to do something about what you faced? You know, I was wrong. I thought being happy would make you forget the past. But now I think you need to do something about it.”
“You tell me. What do you want?”
“I… I want to do something for those girls you know. I mean, I am lucky. I survived. But look at people. Nirbhaya. And so many more cases, they are dead. And these are only reported rapes. What about those which go unknown and unnoticed? What if my papa was not as influential? I would not have got justice. There may be girls like these. Feeling all cursed and broken. What if their family isn’t like mine? I want to create a family for such girls and make them independent. I want to get them justice. I think that will pacify me. What do you think? Should I?”
“I am with you, sweetheart.” He kissed my forehead.
“But if I get too busy, who will take care of our kids?”
“They aren’t all that small anymore. And I am here too. We will manage. All that matters is what makes you happy. So we are on.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
WE STAY TOGETHER. WE FIGHT TOGETHER. – SMRITI HOME
I stood outside at our small building where various rape survivors stayed. I had succeeded in building up an institution with his support. The NGO had started already and I along with my team was working on fulfilling our mission. I smiled as my husband came to take me home along with my 10 year old kids. I waved at my family in the building as I went with my family waiting outside. Next morning would bring me back to them…..