She opened her bloodshot eyes when she regained consciousness hearing the loud cries of her baby, her six months old daughter, Saisha. Her head felt heavy, and every inch of her battered body ached, reminding her of the inhumane treatment meted out to her on a regular basis. She adjusted her blouse that was spilling her enlarged nursing breasts out of it and collected the veil of her Sari that had probably flung around when her husband had silenced her earlier in the day. Gathering her modesty or whatever was left of it, she dragged herself to the washroom to freshen up before she held her infant and satiated her.
Gauri, the wife of a wealthy businessman Atulya Sahaye, was now a captive of his demonized avatar, she became aware of only after the birth of her little daughter, six months ago. The initial assault of verbal abuses had off lately turned into a physical one and today, it had crossed every limit of a crass, violent act that could shame any civility. She received not a single word of compassion from any other person in the family as well. Her mother-in-law, she had regarded as her own mother, both his younger brothers, she'd always shielded them from their elder brother, her husband's short temper stood muted through her agony. After over three years of blissful marriage, she'd suddenly felt like a stranger in her own house, and she had no one to go to complain about.Saisha quieted as her mother took her in her arms rubbing her little mouth against her mother’s breasts hungrily. Gauri inhaled sharply feeling the urgency of her baby and unclasped her nursing bra to let Saisha latch her rosy lips onto her nipple. The forcible tugs of Saisha’s mouth made her choke on her feed bringing a smile on Gauri’s bruised face as she patted the girl for her impatience. Saisha then settled into the rhythm she’d honed in all of six months that she was, taking turns on each breast before she started playing with it. She made a face as she felt her mother’s warmth slip away but looked happy reconciling. Gauri kissed her chubby white cheeks and took her to the washroom to clean her up. After putting a squeaky clean Saisha into the crib, Gauri sat down on her bed with a thud. ‘What has become of my life,’ she thought. Four Years Back Gauri Vashisht, the University topper, a Masters in Mass Communications and Digital Media joined the prestigious ACE Media Enterprises, one of the companies owned by Mr. Atulya Sahaye. Atulya had inherited the failing Business of his father who had passed away due to Cardiac Arrest while he was on a juggling spree between debts and losses. Atulya, being the eldest among his siblings had to take the reigns of his father’s legacy; howsoever disarrayed it was while still in the first year of his MBA Finance. He was the CEO of his Empire even before he was ready for it. Though he did complete his education, his actual learning came from doing the real job while he was at it. In an attempt to prove himself, he'd immersed himself headlong into work, and when the twenties of his life became thirty, he didn't realize. It was Gauri's carefree laughter and her free spirit that caught his attention when he was visiting his ACE Media office once. Gauri was busy helping to arrange a significant Media Event. While the rest of the staff fretted about doing things one way or the other, she appeared relaxed, entirely in control for her station. Exuberance emitting from her being was making the place come alive even when half the work was done. He had instantly enquired about her that evening from his Personal Assistant. He, kind of, envied her childlike enthusiasm; he had forgotten almost a decade ago. That night, he had smiled thinking about her, without reason. He had an urge to know her for she was the only one in years who had touched his heart. He started keeping track of her and had told her all this when they got married four months later. He proposed to her, rather confronted her, if she remembered correctly.“Hi. You are Gauri Vashisht, Right. The new junior Media Planner, I guess.” Atulya asked her when she was called to his office. Till then, she’d only seen him from far and had heard stories about his ruthlessness when it came to work ethics. She’d felt petrified when she was summoned to his Chambers on the top floor of the Company building. “Yes….yes Sir. Did I do anything wrong? I’m sorry, Sir.” She blabbered in her nervousness.“No. Noooo. You didn't. In fact, I called you because I happened to see you working and I must compliment you on your style of working. Good job." He said reassuring her and gestured her to sit from across him, offering her the glass of water lying there on his table.“Thank You, Sir.” She said and sank into the chair emptying the glass of water instantly, sighing with relief. The color finally returned on her face and the smile, he'd so yearned to see for days, in the end, appeared back where it belonged. “How do you like it here, at ACE Media, Gauri. Being a University topper, you must have had a lot of other job offers as well. What attracted you to join our Company?” He asked in an effort to prolong her stay in his office and hear the tinkle of her voice that had been resonating in his ears for months now.She looked at Atulya’s face to ascertain his intent at knowing what he was asking her. He looked calm, leaning back in his black leather pushback office chair; his left hand supported his chin as the elbow rested on the glass tabletop. He appeared genuinely interested in getting an answer from her. Though, his impatience was evident from his mild tapping at the table with his free hand. She smiled, feeling awkward at studying his body language but spoke nonetheless."It's a lot of factors, Sir. Your market cap is steadily on the rise. The media cells in function find no interference from other units of your companies which are relatively better placed. I was offered a meatier role as an executive here whereas in the other establishments; I would've been a trainee for years on end. And last but not the least, the pay package was quite a clincher." She said feeling a little sheepish at her last words.“You don’t have to feel awkward talking about the pay package, Ms. Vashisht. That’s what we actually work for. You got one because you rightfully deserved one. I’m glad, you like it here.” He said smiling, a rarity for him.“Is that all, Sir? Can I go?” She asked hesitatingly, not knowing whether to keep sitting or to get up.“Quite in a hurry, aren’t you?” He asked.“No, Sir. I mean, I shouldn’t be wasting too much of your time.” She rebutted instantly.“In that case, and well if you aren’t too busy, I would like you to devise a promotion strategy for me also, a personalized image makeover. I’ve learned, Ms. Vashisht that for someone who has achieved so much, I’m not a popular man. Could you do something to create a new persona, a new image for me, a little popular of sorts.” He asked.“Me…..? How can I, Sir? I mean I’m too new at this job. If anything went wrong, what will I do? I….I can’t lose this job. I mean….” She almost shrieked with an unforeseen dread. “Hey! It’s okay. Relax. “ He leaned forward keeping his both elbows at the table, almost reaching to hold her sweat-soaked hands in his but retracted well in time. He didn’t want to startle her any further. “We won’t if you don’t want to. I only wanted you to do it because I thought; you could bring some freshness to the idea. You are young, you have new ideas, and you are very relaxed when you work. I only wanted those qualities of you to add another dimension to what I wanted for myself. If your seniors could do, they would've done it by now. But never mind. I can live with my old boorish image, I guess, I would have to." He said resigning. She felt guilty. “I think, I would like to do it, only if you promise that you will not fire me if anything went wrong.” She said looking a lot more positive. “How and when do we start?” "Wind up whatever you are doing in the department, and we'll start. We begin by you accompanying me wherever I go. Sort my official as well as personal wardrobe, Interrupt me if I came along unnecessarily strong at someone, go through my public interaction conversations. In all, study me before we go about making the amendments and portraying a new me in our media outreach.” Atulya said giving her a definitive blueprint.‘You need a wife, not an image consultant.’ She mumbled. “Sorry. You said something?” He asked amusedly. “No. Nothing. Sir. I’ll report back ASAP.” She said getting up and almost ran out of his office.Atulya sat back feeling thrilled at his conquest. He smiled to himself and said. ‘You are spot on, Ms. Vashisht. I do need a wife, and I'll make sure, you are the one, sooner than later.'True to her word, Gauri wound up the work assigned to her earlier and reported at Atulya's office in about ten days time. His patience was thinning, but he couldn't possibly appear too desperate in front of her or his staff. She informed him about her plan of action that included a period of silent observation. That she explained would help her understand his perspective and construct correlations of his measures according to the circumstances around him. Only then would Gauri be able to make the necessary changes if he deemed them fit. Atulya could not ask for more. She added the much-needed color to his otherwise shrill looking black and white office décor. She would let the Venetian blinds to slide off allowing the sunshine in. The vibrant colors of lily greeted his mornings, and the positivity of this little new routine reflected well in his everyday behavior; his personal staff acknowledged. Things changed for Gauri too.
Every day, she spent close to him brought her more and more admiration for the man she worked with, rather worked for. His larger than life persona, his meticulous handling of the most complex issues, his unwavering command over his domain often left her awestruck. Yet his gentleness at dealing with the ones who needed his compassion floored her. She didn’t know if she could do justice to him by bringing in any change because from where she saw him, he was as perfect as one could get. It had been a month since she started her assignment with him already and she could not still figure out what she was going to do next. Other than making significant changes in his wardrobe, she'd pretty much-done nothing. It was then, he asked.“So, Ms. Vashisht. You’ve observed me enough. What next?” He asked a clueless Gauri.“I…. I don’t think, you need a makeover, Sir. Or maybe, I'm not capable enough to suggest you anything. We can, at best work on some PR stuff. You are perfect as you are." She said hesitatingly. “You sure about it.” He asked, his voice resonating in space, penetrating her eyes with an intense gaze as if searching her soul for the validity of her reply. She felt something melting within her in the heat his proximity exuded."I…. I'm, Sir." She said controlling the whirlpool of desire that was building within her, ready to engulf her. He was too much out of her league, nine years older than her and probably a few billion apart from her orphaned existence.“Well, we’ll take that call after we got back from Paris. Pack your bags. We leave tomorrow-early morning for five days. My driver will pick you up well in time. Don’t pack the business formals. It’s more of a personal visit.” Atulya instructed and before she said anything, he got busy on his phone gesturing her to leave.
After the driver secured her luggage and opened the door of his Q5, she was astonished to see her boss sitting inside waiting for her in her modest locality. She felt awkward initially but there was little, she could do to undo it. It was better to keep quiet and just say thanks instead. She did just that.
“Save the thanks until the end of the trip, Ms. Vashisht. They're either going to be much too many or none at all. Let's see how you find it." He said adding to Gauri's confusion. She shivered with the fear of the unknown but did put up the brave act and smiled instead. She couldn’t let him get a whiff of her yearnings, not in a place she was the most vulnerable.
“Your staff isn’t joining us, Sir.” She enquired when he handed her the boarding pass for her first ever First Class Air Travel.
"Are you scared of going alone with me, Ms. Vashisht? You know you are safe with me. Don't you?" He asked instead.
“I’m, Sir. But office grapevine isn’t forgiving. I hope you understand." She said, her voice barely audible.
“Trust me to handle that. If you are still unconvinced, we can always go back.” He said locking his eyes with hers. His determination was daunting that gave her the much- needed strength. She nodded and smiled as they proceeded towards the security check.
He had booked them into one of the luxury cottages in a sprawling Resort. The beauty of the entire place mesmerized Gauri, something only the dreams are made of. The cottage had two bedrooms with an enormous living room and a kitchenette and a huge verandah overlooking the swimming pool.
She took off her shoes and fell down backward on the cushy bed. It was heaven, and she promised herself that she was going to make most of the five days; they were going to be there. She would go back and excuse herself out of his assignment. His proximity was doing no good to her, and she feared, she might over-step her boundaries, if she wasn’t careful.
Gauri opened her eyes to a persistent knock on her door. She’d passed out for nearly an hour. She sobered up and answered the door. It was Atulya as expected. What she didn’t expect were the two steaming cups of coffee, he was holding in his hands. She took one mouthing a bleak thank you as he motioned her to join him in the verandah. He’d showered and changed into a pair of joggers and a fitted T-shirt showing off his chiseled body. She lowered her eyes realizing that she was ogling him and what worse was, he was enjoying that. An awkward silence existed between them today, and for some weird reason, they let it be.
"Go, freshen up. We are going out for Dinner, someplace fancy. Dress up nicely." He said finishing his coffee and she was thankful to him for the interlude.
She closed the door of her room and supported her back against it to draw in a deep breath. Her heart was bouncing in her chest, and she didn't know, how would she go past these five days without making a fool out of herself. Her eyes fell on the two boxes lying on her bed.
She opened the small velvet box that had a beautiful necklace in diamonds and rubies with complimenting earrings and a bracelet. The bigger box had a beautiful dress in red satin. The bodice had a minimal embroidery work with a broad collar that rested below her shoulders. She looked outside through her window. Atulya sat there quietly looking far away, probably in deep thoughts. He had briefly come inside to answer his phone while they sat out there earlier. It was perhaps then; he’d slipped the dress in her room. Her dilemmas came to haunt her back. What did this mean? Was he attracted towards her or was she just expected to return his favors in kind, the kind, she might be uncomfortable with.
She weighed her options. Leaving was definitely not one of them. Her ticket and passport were with Atulya, and in any case, it was only five days apart. She thought of going with the flow. She could always refuse him if he asked her more than she could give. She was sure that Atulya was civilized enough to honor a woman's refusal.
She dressed up slipping the red floor-length gown that fitted her well accentuating her curves. It was from her Boss's personal designer, from whom she had procured her office and party dresses for last month when she accompanied him to various events. With minimal makeup and a loose bun at the nape of her long neck, she was ready. Her hands trembled as she took out the exquisite pieces of jewelry out of the velvet box, wearing one earring after another and slipping the bracelet on her arm. She once again ran her delicate fingers on the necklace before she could wear it. A knock at the door alerted her, and she shouted, "Coming."
He thought, she said ‘come in' and came inside instantly. Atulya's breath got caught in his throat looking at the vision before his eyes. The blush on her cheeks was real and not an artwork. He went closer and without uttering a word, took the necklace from her trembling hand and put it around her neck gently. Her body felt on fire under his touch, and he knew, he would end their turmoil before the night was over.
“Let’s go.” He whispered offering her his arm. She held it firmly praying not to spoil his expensive suit by her sweaty palms.
‘Le commissar’ led them through the crowded upscale restaurant towards a quiet balcony, specially designed for privacy. The rich décor of the place in off-white and gold looked very regal, a small piece taken out of the French Monarchy's magnanimous dining halls. Atulya pulled out the chair for her to sit before he sat. His chivalry was touching the sky, and she wasn't sure if she deserved it. They made small talk between the red wine and the Italian food.
“Are you not happy to be here tonight, Gauri?” He asked sensing her hesitation.
“It’s not that Sir. I don’t know what to make of this. I’m just as confused as I’m awestruck. I don’t deserve this, I believe.” She finally expressed her anxieties.
"Don't say that. You deserve every bit of it. And yeah, I'll tell you why are we here. Just promise me that you would not freak out. Refuse, if you must, and nothing will change between us." He said extending his hand. Gauri looked at his face trying to read something. He was as warm as always. She wanted to trust him. She extended her clammy hand nonetheless and closed her eyes.
“Marry me, Gauri. Will you?” She heard the most melodious words ever spoken to her. She looked on the other side of her chair where Atulya sat on his one knee extending his hand carrying a small velvet box with a beautiful ring in it waiting eagerly for her response.
She was beyond shocked. The tears rolled down her cheeks, her mind still not able to decipher the turn this beautiful evening had taken.
“Say something, Gauri. Do you not feel anything for me in your heart.” Atulya urged, still looking as calm as always.
Her lips moved to form some words, but her throat was choked. She nodded and before Atulya could slide the ring in her finger, she lowered herself and collapsed in his arms ending her misery. He kept the ring on the table and gathered her securing her in his embrace. They kept sitting on the floor for a while until her breathing became regular. He then lifted her face and planted on her lips, the most tender kiss of her life. They, both sat down on their respective chairs, and it was then he placed the ring on her Ring Finger.
It was a delicate looking diamond ring, nothing like the huge rocks she'd seen the wealthy women flaunting after their engagements.
He had taken the ring out of the velvet box and showed her their initials engraved on the inside of the platinum band that read ‘A loves G.'
“It’s not something too fancy, Gauri. It’s as simple and bland as I’m and as easily wearable. You can buy any jewelry as you like in the future, but this is the testimony of my love, I want you to wear always, as long as you love me too. It will keep on reminding me that you loved me still overlooking my shortcomings, you will come to know when we lived together." He had said, and all she did was to extend her hand to let him slip it on her finger binding them in love forever.
Gauri looked at her ring finger through her teary eyes. The ring existed still. What did that mean? Did she love him still? Or maybe, she hadn’t given up on him yet. She wiped her face clean and answered the door. It was her maid who had gotten food for her. She told her to keep the food-tray on the center table before she bolted towards her washroom. She couldn't bear to see the expressions of sympathy on her staff's faces, who were very much in the know of her changed status in the house.
Later in the evening, she heard Atulya telling his mother that he’d already eaten before he came to retire in their room. She was in the washroom washing Saisha’s soiled nappies while the little girl played with her toys hung on her crib. She was giggling, trying to kick her toys when Atulya entered the room. Gauri felt terrified of his reaction as he walked up to the crib. He looked around the room and not finding anyone around, bent over his daughter’s crib to watch her play. Gauri saw his face softening in the longest of time. He touched her hand gently, and Saisha clasped her little fist around his finger. There still was hope, Gauri thought and lingered on in the washroom even after she'd bathed, just so that Atulya got uninterrupted time to bond with his daughter, a daughter he so regretted was born.
She came out of the restroom after a while when he was taking his night suit out of the cupboard. He didn’t look in her side and instantly dashed towards the washroom. Gauri tucked a sleepy Saisha and kissed her Good Night before she lay on the bed. Such nights after the mornings like today were the most awkward ones. She closed her eyes in an effort to sleep before Atulya came to bed but much luck. She saw him as he exited the washroom and did random stuff around delaying to go to bed. He looked tired somewhat fatigued. He finally turned the lights off leaving the night lamp on for Saisha's sake and came to lie down beside her. He turned away initially but then turned towards her. Atulya closed his eyes and inhaled deeply looking at the telltale signs of his torment on Gauri's face.
The dark bruises of her face mirrored the darkness of his heart, his demonized persona, he had no inkling, he harbored inside him. Who was he, when he did this to her, Atulya thought, and his hand instinctively raised to caress the wounds, he had inflicted on her. Her hand lifted with a reflex to shield her face bringing the band of his love in the line of his vision. He closed his eyes in recollection of what he was and what had he become.
“You don’t need to wear it still, Gauri. You don’t have to pretend that you love me when I hate myself, or whatever I have become.” He said whispering running his finger on her ring.
"Maybe, it's still not too late," Gauri, said flinching with pain as he caressed her face.
“I’m sorry. I really am. I’ll try not to be this person ever.” He said promising taking her in his embrace.
She could only hope, it ended as abruptly as it had begun six months ago.
Atulya's proposal was too overwhelming for her, much like a fairytale. He understood her disbelief and gave her ample time for the reality of her life to sink in. Though he'd wanted her badly, rushing her into a physical relationship might baffle her, he thought. What he didn't know was that she wanted him just as much and she did let him know.
Three days later, as he said Good Night kissing her on her forehead before he turned to leave her in front of her room, she held his hand almost startling him. When did she become this bold, they both thought simultaneously?
Her eyes smoldered, inviting and he was gone. For her, their relationship was as legitimate as it could get, going by the trust she’d in his words. He still acted with caution.
“I can wait, Gauri, until after we are wed. Don’t push your limits.” He said cupping her cheeks.
“No legal document is as worthy as your word, Sir.” She said.
“It’s Atulya from now on.” He said and captured her lips and what happened next was now a memory from another universe.
They got married in Paris the next day and extended their honeymoon by another week. He instructed his staff to arrange a Wedding Reception when they got back.
Time flew, and before she knew it, they were celebrating their First Wedding Anniversary. The initial surge of their enthusiasm ebbed, but their love existed just as it was. She worked harder and had attained a senior position in ACE Media, someday she would be heading, everyone believed. Back home, a silent clamor for starting a family increased. It was then Gauri realized, they had been taking no precautions over the past year, and still, she had not conceived.
She told Atulya that she would want to see a Gynecologist to seek professional advice so that she could conceive or if anything was wrong with her Reproductive system. He admonished her for her apprehensions but booked her the appointment nonetheless. The doctor insisted on running some tests for both of them. Atulya played along joking that he could give a stud run for his money for his virility. She could surely vouch for it knowing his insatiable hunger when he devoured her. The test results came back in a few days, and all hell broke loose.
She fared well, but for Atulya, his sperm count was marginally low. He was shocked to hear that. He felt as if his masculinity was challenged. The doctor comforted him saying that it did not compromise his potency and could be because of the stressful work life, he’d been living for years. She then called them back for counseling after a week to discuss the options for her conception.
Atulya was heartbroken, and it was for the first time, he'd shouted at her when all she did was to try and soothe his fray nerves. She put in her heart and soul in comforting him, sensitizing him and in convincing him to see the doctor once again.
He had mellowed down, and they consulted the doctor again. She prescribed certain tonics, medications for them both and instructed them about the methods and the best time to copulate to increase the chances of her getting pregnant.
Gauri's patience month after another and her resolve at keeping Atulya calm and less anxious did show the desired result. She conceived after about eight months. Atulya was beyond happy and so was she, albeit their reasons were different.
For Gauri, motherhood was bliss. She’d wanted to mother her children, to give them what she could never get after she’d lost her parents at an early age. She wanted to live her childhood through her children. For Atulya, it was a conquest over his fear, the fear of being judged by a society that lay too much of emphasis on one’s virility, the capability to produce an heir.
He made sure, Gauri ate well, didn’t exert herself too much and took good care of her and the baby, so much so, he starting stifling her. She paid little attention understanding his paranoia and went with the flow, little did she know that her very well educated husband did not just want a child, he wanted a boy; an heir apparent.
His displeasure at the birth of his daughter was frightening. Everyone in the house and among his relatives and friends welcomed her little bundle of joy with a caveat that she should soon give birth to a son next, a torchbearer of his father's legacy, the Sahaye legacy.
She kept smiling throughout the celebrations understanding fully well how her society functioned. She would want a son next to complete the equation of her family as she would have desired a daughter next if her first baby was a boy.
It was no crime to want the best of both worlds for any mother, any family. But Atulya was another person since then, and she understood it much later, why.
Every time, anyone suggested about next time or second baby, he would get agitated. It reminded him of his shortcomings, the very fact that he might not become a father again. It hurt his pride and the only person who knew and shared his limitations was his wife, his Gauri. He turned verbally abusive and of lately, physically as well.
As the days passed, Atulya's behavior remained erratic. He had good days too, but the bad ones were much too many. He had started avoiding her, spent too much time in office and offshore meetings. He was aging faster than his age, his anxiety levels high always.
Gauri bore the brunt of her husband's neglect at some time and his physical wrath at other though it wasn't as bad as earlier.
At home, her mother-in-law blamed her for things she didn't know existed. The only bright spot in her otherwise glum life was Saisha who was growing up fast, and for some reason, Atulya had reconciled with his destiny.
All his time at home, he preferred spending with his daughter who didn't ask him difficult questions like his mother did or who didn't judge him like he thought his wife did. He, in fact, threw a grand party for Saisha's first B'day. But as the night befell, the monster within him rose again.
Saisha now slept in her nursery that was adjoining their room. Gauri came back happily after putting her exhausted daughter to sleep. Atulya had been in a good mood today. She thought of talking to him, complimenting him for what he did for her, their daughter. Atulya had taken off his coat and tie that lay fallen on the floor, the sleeves of his shirt folded as he stood looking outside of the large window. She went and hugged him from behind. She wanted her proximity to melting down his anger, his anxieties and their differences.
He stood unmoved. She looked from the side, his face hard as a stone, his eyes shrill, a look, she knew too well. She retreated fearing his fury, but he held her by her arm and pulled her closer. Holding both her arms in his death grip, he shouted.
"Is it not enough for a man to have a child if it was a daughter? Why do they want to challenge my manhood, constantly nagging me to have a son? You too want a son, which I probably can't give you. You also think I'm not a man enough. Why do you remain silent when everyone questions your capability to have a son? Why don't you shout it out and tell them that your man is incapable of giving you one? Why do you sympathize with me, damn it?" He said shaking her, hurting her before he pushed her back. Gauri fell down hitting her head at the corner of the bed. He threw the Ceramic Vas lying nearby to divert his anger at something inert.
That night, it was a wake-up call for Gauri. Atulya was suffering from lack of self-esteem. He needed help, therapy to get back his sensibilities only if he acknowledged it. He was angry with himself, and her presence merely reminded him of his shortcomings, his deficiencies day after day.
Over the next few months, Gauri tried to engage Atulya, trying her level best to convince him to go for counseling but he won’t budge saying now she wanted to prove him mad as well. She suggested seeking the help of her gynecologist to help them conceive again, but his pride would not let him find help still. She didn’t know, for how long more would she be able to pay the price of his inflated ego and bruised pride that killed her piece by piece every passing day, till Gauri decided she couldn't take it anymore.
Saisha was nearly two years now. Gauri started taking her for swimming classes, play dates with few of her friends in the neighborhood, to the park, etc. After a long time, she was enjoying getting away from home. She made friends among the parents of toddlers that Saisha hung out with. While at home, she created her fake social media account where she would chat and interact with strangers. It gave her a temporary respite. In one of such interactions, she made friends with Roger. He lived in Warsaw, Poland. He was as much a loner as she was or so it seemed. She loved chatting with him, and soon he became her confidante. He offered her to come over to his country if she ever needed to get away from her abusive husband.
‘Leaving him' the thought itself felt liberating. But what about Saisha! Divorcing Atulya on the charges of Domestic violence would leave her red-faced, and she certainly won't want Saisha to grow up thinking that her father was a monster. He wasn't, and she knew it. Atulya was sick, an illness that needed treatment.
Only, he wasn't ready to accept it. She wished, he did, and she would have stood by him like a pillar. Thought of taking Saisha away was tempting. She was her little baby, probably her only chance to be a mother in this life. But she possibly could not take her along if she fled. Atulya would move heaven and earth looking for his daughter, his sole heiress or he might end his life out of the depression that she knew he was going in.
Saisha was her only source of joy, but in this rare, vulnerable moment, she prayed that she got the strength to trade her motherhood for another man, for a life for herself and probably for a life for Atulya as well.
There, Atulya was making efforts to get over his anxieties. He did realize that they had little control over their destiny and tormenting Gauri was only destroying him more from within. If Gauri were suffering from any such ailment, he would’ve been as supportive as she was to him. He would’ve protected her from the societal pressures; child or no child. It was definitely not about the birth of his daughter, he was angry about. Damn it, he loved her. The unease, the apprehension to go about the tedious and yet uncertain process of trying to conceive again, felt too insulting to him but he wasn’t ready to confide that in his mother or any other member of his family.
Their pressures scared him; angered him and Gauri bore the brunt of it, but no more. This would have to stop.
He was so tempted to relocate with Gauri and Saisha where expectations of people around them were low. He started working on his plans and to surprise Gauri, when it became a reality. But destiny had other plans.
Atulya felt uneasy looking at the dark skies outside. It wasn’t unusual for weather to be such during monsoons. It was raining cats and dogs and he was stuck in the office lest he got caught in the unending traffic jam on the road that led him home. Gauri was visiting one of her distant aunts who lived in the suburbs, she’d informed. Her phone was constantly out of reach for past three hours that worried him sick. Saisha was thankfully home, as Gauri didn’t want to bother her for long hours. Little did he know that the darkness outside his window would set foot in his life, in his heart with a mere ringing of his phone.
He stood still after hearing from the cop that Gauri had met with an accident. Her car skidded, tumbled and fell down into the raging river while negotiating a curve on the highway. The vehicle was retrieved after a couple of days, but there was no sign of Gauri. She simply vanished. Saisha was inconsolable, and Atulya felt as if he'd lost it all. Why did he take so long to take her away from here and why didn’t he at least confide it in her, his decision to move on, move away, he thought regretting. The cops had recovered a bag containing Gauri’s clothes from the boot along with some pieces of jewelry that she was carrying along. Her handbag was stacked with bundles of currency notes, her passport and other travel documents with an air ticket for Australia. What caught Atulya’s attention was a small velvet box that contained her engagement ring, the souvenir of their love. ‘So she had finally given up on me, on us,' He thought.
He was devastated for driving her this far. How he wished, she’d at least managed to escape instead of drowning. He would still had hope of seeing her some day, convincing her to be back for him and their daughter. His anger had deprived her of her will to live, Saisha of having to grow up with her mother’s love and himself of a Love, he might not find ever again. What struck him more was the fact that she was leaving him, leaving her daughter behind so that he could live without guilt and with a purpose. She knew she made him feel inadequate, so she removed herself from the equation to let him live in peace. He shouted holding the ring in his hand.
Meera took the flight to Poland. Gauri’s tragic death had made quite a headline, but here she was, with a new name, new identity heading for a new life. Saisha's innocent face kept nagging her of her betrayal to her daughter, but she knew what she did was best for her too. She would not want her daughter to grow up in an unstable house, with an abusive father, and a helpless mother. She looked at the message from her new bank account where she’d transferred all the money she got after selling her jewelry, leaving very little in the car along with some cash and her precious diamond ring. Atulya was sure to get the message that she betrayed him before she died. It would absolve him of any guilt, he ever felt.
She had enough money to see her through many decades of her life if she maintained a low profile. She closed her eyes in exhaustion, exhaustion of plotting her escape and then her death and securing herself financially for past two months.
Roger was there to pick her up at the Warsaw Chopin Airport. He was glad she could make it to Warsaw safely. Roger worked with a local Cosmetic Company and earned a reasonable salary. He took her to his two-bedroom apartment where she planned to live till she found a place of her own and probably a job to keep her busy.
She soon found a decent Studio apartment for herself and Roger helped her find a job with an event management company. Life was starting to look up. She made friends after what seemed like a lifetime, but Roger was her go-to person there. He fulfilled her needs, emotional as well as physical. They'd been dating for two years when one day, Roger sprang the surprise.
"Will you marry me, Meera?" He asked, and the infamous little box appeared again freaking the life out of Meera.
“No can do, Roger. Not again.” She said wiping the lone tear that had escaped her eye as she went towards the window and stood with her back towards him.
“That’s over and done with, Meera. For how long will you live in the past?” He asked.
“I’m not living in the past Roger. I just don’t want to be bound to you or to anyone. I’m living my life the way I want.” She reiterated.
“You don’t love me, then.” He asked disappointed.
“Love isn’t one-dimensional for me Roger. It has to be undemanding, free-spirited like we shared for last two years. You just spoilt it with your expectations. I'm not ready for it, will never be." She said and went away. Roger went back. She didn't hear from him for a fortnight, and then she moved, moved to Berlin for yet another stopover. For years, she kept flitting from one place to another, from one man to other running away from any kind of emotional attachment. She didn’t want to bind herself in frivolous relationships that came with only expectations and no guarantee of a forever. Her only indulgence was to stalk Atulya, and through him, her little angel, Gauri had loved dearly. She could watch her grow in pictures of her; he regularly posted on his social media site.
Atulya was a different man now. His entire life revolved around his daughter. He took care of her every need, participated in her every special occasion like a doting father. His mother compelled him to get married again, but he always refused. He could possibly not share his shortcomings with another soul and would not want to be in the same spot like before. He could not let Gauri’s sacrifice go waste.
He’d showed his mother, the ring that he wore in a chain around his neck.
“Gauri was my first and last Love, Mom. We killed her, you with your unreasonable expectations and I, with my insecurities. No one can take Gauri's place in my life. I have her Saisha, and she's enough to live my life happily." He had finally made it clear to his family and had soon moved out into another house of his where he could groom his daughter away from the societal pressures.
“Wow, Dad. Paris is so beautiful. Why didn’t you bring me here before.” An excited Saisha shouted as they set out to explore Paris.
"It held an extraordinary place in my heart, Saisha. It was here I proposed to your mother and married her after three days, twenty-five years ago. Today, it would have been our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Paris holds best of our memories together.” Atulya sighed.
“You loved her. Didn’t ya?” She asked.
"I still do. So did Gauri." He said.
“You’d never been with any other woman after Mom, Dad?” Saisha asked again.
Atulya looked at her face with indecisiveness, but he'd to come clean. "Well, there had been a few, you know, those need-based relationships but no one could ever touch my heart like your mother did. No one could take her place." He said awkwardly.
“But I ‘ve heard strange stories about you and mom. I never asked you before, but were you rude to her before she died.” Saisha asked hesitatingly trying best not to sound accusatory.
“I was ill, psychological issues, anxiety issues, you see. Gauri tried making me see them so that I could avail help. But I was terrified. Times were different Saisha. Psychological disorders were viewed, as madness and I didn't want to be recognized with one. She knew my weaknesses, my deficiencies and I feared her, feared that she might laugh at me, or accuse me of them someday. I tried overpowering her, breaking her because of my own insecurities. She fought, rather endured my abuses before she gave up. She left and left me you so that I lived my life with a purpose. She sacrificed her motherhood so that I lived a full life. I would’ve died if she’d taken you along.” He said trying to give out as little information as he could, to still shield his pride. How could he share with his daughter that it was her gender that had angered him to begin with? The reasons could be any and might not matter anymore but no child needed to know that. Saisha was shocked.
“But Mom died in an accident. Didn’t she?” She asked surprised.
"That's what everyone believed. Gauri had left me already and was going very far away that fateful night before she met with that fatal accident. Sometimes I feel, she's still alive, watching us from a quiet corner and is feeling happy in our happiness." He said wiping his eyes.
“If you loved her so much and you felt that she was alive, why you never tried looking for her?” Saisha asked.
“Because of this.” He took out his chain and showed her the ring he still wore. “She’d promised she’d wear it till the time she loved me. It was lying in a box with her belongings. I didn’t want to disrespect her wishes. She must’ve believed, we won’t have been happy living together. Maybe we won’t have been.” Atulya said as they climbed the Pont Notre-Dame to walk its length.
Saisha shook her head at the crazy love story of her parents and walked faster. He walked lazily behind reminiscing the days when he strolled there hand in hand with Gauri. How he wished, he had not let his timidities kill the most beautiful relationship in his life. His deep thought was broken by a whiff of very distinctive musky rose smell, and there she was, walking lethargically lost in her thoughts. She had aged gracefully, but the twinkle in her eyes was missing. He'd stolen it long back.
Saisha called to hurry up from where she stood, breaking Gauri's chain of thoughts. She lifted her face to look behind and then looked at him. Their eyes met. Hers was pleased, his terrified. She smiled in recognition of that expression and walked past. He didn’t move; he couldn’t till the scent surrounding her thinned out in the air. He took a deep breath, looked in her direction but she was gone; gone like before. She knew they didn’t belong together and now, he knew it too. He took out the ring and held it in his hand caressing the inscription on it. Saisha came running to him.
“What are you doing Dad?” Saisha sensed what he was about to do.
“I’m liberating her and myself too. It reads, ‘A loves G.' But I never loved her enough as it says and as much as she deserved. I linked and bound and chained her love with this piece of metal and stones and today I realize, she didn't need this in her finger to show how much she'd loved me, cared about me." He said with a choked throat and threw the ring in the river and cried, cried like a baby in years.
That night, he sat with Saisha in the same old restaurant, precisely in the place where he had proposed to her. Only this time, the curtains weren’t drawn. They didn’t need the privacy. He looked outside at the busy restaurant hoping to find her. He told Saisha stories about their happy times which might have lasted a little over three years but left them the memories, they still lived by.
"I wish, you and mom had a perfect love story Dad, the one with a happy ending," Saisha said feeling a bit sad.
“Sometimes, the Love is not about proximity, it’s about understanding what the other needs; be it distance. We found love in imperfection. Happy endings are not always about being together. They are about knowing that we are happy even when we lived our separate lives, celebrating our memories and burning in the very desire, we once felt.” He looked up again sensing a pair of eyes on him. She was sitting at the far end, smiling and this time; he smiled back, knowing he was still loved despite all his flaws.
This was their Happy Ending, their ‘fin heureuse.'
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