- Aastha Katyal
“Hi Rajeev. How was your day at office today?”
“It was Okay. Remember that presentation I had been preparing for, for that Colgate account. That was today.”
“Oh Yeah! How’d it go?”
“Good, Good. At least I think it went well. Next week will tell for sure, when we know whether we are getting the work or not.”
“Well, I am sure you will.”
“Sheila, What’s for dinner?”
“I was thinking let’s go out tonight. I just don’t feel like cooking. I am so exhausted with all the work at school. That Principal of ours is such an inefficient, confused, old hag.”
“Oh Lord! What happened now?”
“Yaar, She is the most inefficient and uneffective administrator I have ever come across in my 20 years in the teaching profession. So after telling us to prepare lesson plans in a certain way, and constantly berating us to send them across as soon as we could, basically ensuring our one short month of holiday was effectively ruined for all of us, she today tells us in the needlessly three hour long meeting, that she doesn’t want them that way and that we have to redo everything following a new format which will ensure more clarity and accountability, apparently.”
“Why the hell, do you not leave this stupid job? I earn enough for both of us.”
“Please Rajeev, don’t start again. You know I like being financially independent. Besides I have some good friends at the school. If it gets too much for me, I’ll look for other options.”
“Fine. Whatever! So where are we going?”
“Well, I thought we could go try out that new place that had opened up in the Vasant Vihar market. It’s called Soi Thai. It seems very interesting.”
“Acha fine. Just give me half an hour to get ready and stuff and then we can leave.”
“I liked the food, nahi, Sheila?”
“Yes, it was really good. I especially loved the Pad Thai noodles. But I can never forget the ones we had in Thailand, last month. They were so delicious.”
“Yeah. That was a fantastic place.”
“Hmm. It was nice of Shekhar to get us those great rooms at his friend’s hotel at a discounted rate. When’d he join your office honey? A month or so back na? You were so wary of it when he offered to do it for us and I told him to go ahead with the discount deal, if he could. He’s a nice chap, isn’t he?”
“Hmm... Yeah. Speaking of Shekhar, Sheila there’s something wrong with him I think.”
“Why do you say so?”
“The man seems slightly crazy to me. I mean he’s alright, I guess. Respects me a lot, and looks up to me and stuff. But he’s begun telling me about him and his wife, Richa, and it’s just all so unbelievably astounding. It just makes me ... uncomfortable.”
“What does he tell you?”
“Sir, May I come in?”
“Yes Shekhar come in. I was just finishing the pitch on this account. The boss is really after my life on this one.”
“Yeah! I think it’s really important to him. He must be getting some sort of kickbacks or something. He He.”
“Haha, Yeah probably. So how are you settling in, in this city? Do you like Delhi?”
“Well, it’s so different from Chandigarh. I mean I’ve lived there for 10 years, and am so used to the kind of life that place has that I am feeling quite out of place in this city right now. It’s more quiet and there was this community feeling in the area that I used to live in, the society in Panchkula. Here it’s all so big, and every body’s too busy to even spare you a moment. It can be quite daunting in fact. And what’s the deal with these constant traffic jams sir?”
“Haha! Yeah that’s quite a pain. Especially, at this time of the year. One rain and the damn city has a breakdown.”
“I told my wife to avoid taking the car to work. It’s much easier that way. Anyway how far is her office? She can easily take the metro to and fro.”
“Hmm. Where does your wife work again?”
“At this start up in Gurgaon sir. It’s called Fast Furnish. She’s done an MBA and she wanted to work with an MNC, but she thought it would be better to begin work here, while she scouts for good offers.”
“That’s good. So she’s gone all day? Do you guys get any time together what with your busy hours here?”
“Oh Yes Sir! I make her get up at 6:00 am so that she can cook my food and iron my clothes, before she leaves for work at 8:30 a.m.”
“What do you mean you make her ‘get up’?”
“Well, obviously she won’t wake up herself na? You are lucky to have a good devoted wife sir. Girls these days. They have no sense of homemaking and treat their husbands with no respect. All she cares about is her job and herself. I have to sometimes slap some sense into her.”
“What! When you say slap, you mean...”
“Oh No no Sir! It’s all playful. She knows I mean no harm. Now just the other day, she was ironing my underwear and she burned a small hole into it. Now how careless is that! Would she do that with her clothes? No, Never! Just because I don’t say anything to her, doesn’t mean she’ll treat me like shit, right? So I gave it to her. Nothing much, just a whip or two with my belt. It was very light. But it was just because I was so furious. It was more meant to teach her a lesson than anything else. Not like she complained.”
“But Shekhar How can you...?”
“Oh no Rajeev Sir. Don’t worry. I am not a monster or anything. It’s just that she’s so self involved and hardly cares for me and my needs. You know she’s a pure vegetarian. She doesn’t eat even eggs. But that doesn’t mean I have to turn vegetarian too right? So I get her half a kg of mutton and ask her to cook it for me. I got it cleaned and cut beforehand. I am not thoughtless, am I? But she says, ‘I can’t cook it Shekhar. I can’t touch mutton at all, and I get sick at the very smell of raw meat. But I will for sure sit at the table with you as you eat, give you company.’ I was so angry, I slapped her, very lightly of course, and said, you don’t want to cook for your husband? What kind of a wife can’t do this one simple task? Have I married her so I work while her highness graces me with her company? So I told her, even I won’t cook it, if you’ve got such a problem with this thing. And I just threw the mutton out. It was so horribly annoying. I mean, has your wife ever done such a thing sir?”
“I’m sorry. Of course she hasn’t. Mrs. Sandhu seems quite lovely in fact. How many years has it been to your marriage sir?”
“Umm... about 16 years now. You’ve married recently I suppose? You seem quite young.”
“Yes, Sir. In fact I told my mother to find me a wife. And look what was the best she could come up with. I mean, do you know, Richa did not get a single penny from home upon our marriage. Don’t get me wrong, Sir. I am a man of principles. No one from my family even mentioned dowry. But isn’t it her duty, or rather her mother duty to be considerate enough. After all these our social norms. You never go empty handed to your husband’s house, do you? All she got was some jewellery and clothes, and a few gift items for my parents and me. Like we are some sort of charity cases.”
“Last week, she comes to me and tells me her brother needs a ‘small loan’ to cover his expenses for his Applications to Universities abroad. She tells me, she’s giving him a part of her savings which she claims he shall return later. Like I am supposed to believe that. I told her nothing doing. Keep your money with you. He will manage. So she tells me, she was not asking me, she’s just telling me because I am her husband and she thought it was her ‘duty’ to inform me. I got so angry. How can these young nothings talk to their husbands like that? I just lost my cool. Usually I am a very reasonable person, Sir. But when you a push a man’s buttons like this... What is one to do after all? So I set the record straight about her family. Her mother and brother just want to pawn off her, Sir. They are a good for nothing pair, who see her marriage to me as an investment nothing else. They must have thought, let us get her married to this guy who is doing well for himself in a renowned Ad agency and earning good money. Not only will she be happy but we could also get enough support. They know their daughter earns peanuts in front of me, currently. Just because you’ve got an MBA degree doesn’t mean you’ll be made the Managing Director straight away of some MNC na? Huh! I’m sure she and that family of hers knew she was worth nothing. Well, they are sadly mistaken. I may be a decent chap, but I take no bullshit. They are not getting a dime from me! In fact Sir, Don’t tell anyone else, but I had to even beat her a little bit that night, to knock some sense into her. I mean, she was being unnecessarily insistent and sometimes...well sometimes...I just lose my temper a little too much.”
“Shekhar...Uhh...I really have to get this work done now. So if you don’t mind...”
“Oh Yes Yes Sir! Please carry one. I am sorry. I just came in because I wanted to talk to someone. For some reason not many people in this office seem to like me too much. I mean, I am quite fond of you. You’ve been so welcoming and so understanding about...everything.”
“Thank you Shekhar. I’ll see you later then.”
“Yes Sir. See you at lunch? Alright then.”
“Excuse me Sir?”
“Ah! Shekhar...Uhh...I was just..”
“I can see you are having lunch Sir. Do you mind if I join you?”
“Umm...Alright. Please take a seat.”
“Thank you Sir. I’ve got Baingan ka Bharta today and I know it’s your favourite so I thought I’d come share it with you. Please have a bite sir, please.”
“Mmm...It’s very nice. Richa is an excellent cook.”
“Oh! She knew nothing initially. When we got married, the woman would serve me watery Daal and a gooey, slimy paste she would call a vegetable preparation. God knows she doesn’t cook meat. It took a few exhausting lessons, to teach her some stuff. You see I was away during college years in a flat, so I learned to cook myself then. So I passed on my knowledge to her then. Nothing a few light slaps won’t do, eh? Hehehe.”
“Oh My God! How could you let me believe this monstrosity of a human being was a good person?”
“I told you Sheila he was a bit off.”
“A bit off? Rajeev a bit off is Hunder, our servant, who talks to cats and stuff. You could call him off. This guy is just plain creepy. What a Male Chauvinist Pig he is!”
“I was a bit amazed when he said she irons his underwear.”
“I know. She’s an educated professional for God’s sake. What’s wrong with women today? Despite all the education they don’t stand up for their rights and speak up for themselves, against such bastards.”
“Now, Sheila relax. Maybe she has a genuine reason she’s not speaking up.”
“Like what Rajeev?”
“Like, maybe her mother has refused to support her if she leaves her husband. Her father has anyway passed away. She probably doesn’t want an added burden even as her brother is still studying for graduation or something, I think.”
“Oh C’mon. She has an MBA for heaven’s sake. You mean to say she can’t support herself? Even if Richa doesn’t get a big shot job initially she can earn enough to feed herself three square meals a day can’t she? At least it would be better for her than being subjected to such humiliation every day?”
“Sheila, a woman needs support not only financially, but even socially. Our society is still quite biased against separated or divorced women.”
“Whatever Rajeev. I still think a woman as educated as her needs to have enough sense to know her life, peace of mind and happiness are more important than some group of people’s fake cry for ‘honor’.”
“Hey I have an idea. I am too uncomfortable with dealing with these matters, you know it. But you are such an independent and strong woman. If you feel so strongly against this why don’t you contact this NGO you were telling me about the other day, the one you sought help from for Kamla, our previous maid? You could take a representative or two from that place and I’ll give you Shekhar’s address. Go find Richa and talk to her about this.”
“Yeah! I think that’s a good idea. I shall contact them tomorrow morning itself. Maybe she just doesn’t know how to begin getting away from this man’s crap. We could probably help her with that, right?”
“Yup. Now relax and take some rest. Tomorrow is a Saturday so you’re off from school right?”
“So maybe you could call them up tomorrow morning around 10:00 am or so. And talk to them about this whole thing. Preferably go over tomorrow only and talk to Richa.”
“Hmm...Yeah I’ll do that.”
“Good. Now sleep alright. Goodnight honey.”
I stared at my face in the foggy mirror for a long time. The bruise on my forehead from last night’s beating, shone as if it was some sort of a medallion or something. I gazed at the shiner, standing with my hands pushing the wash basin down as I let it bear the weight of my arms, the shower spewing warm water in the bathing area that was separated by the green curtain. It was only when the bell rung, resounding loudly through the empty house that I was shaken out of my reverie.
I wondered who it could be at that hour. I glanced at the clock settled above the bathroom door and saw it was 11:00 am. I was a little taken aback when I realised I had been standing there in the same position for over 45 minutes now.
I hurriedly screwed shut the knob of the shower to stop the water flow, and grabbed my t-shirt which had been hanging from the towel rod next to the bathroom door. I pulled it on over my head, and quickly arranged my hair so that it flopped over the bruise to cover it up. Who knew who was at the door. I ran out to the main door, just as the third bell ran through the house.
I opened it slightly to see who it was. There were three women standing outside, smiling at me benevolently.
“Hi Are you Richa Shekhar Gupta?”
“I am Sheila Sandhu, your husband’s boss Rajeev Sandhu’s wife. May I please come in?”
I wondered what she was doing here, but I nodded and opened the door a little more to allow her in. She continued smiling at me and entered, as the two ladies behind her followed her in.
“Richa, this is Mary Gonsalves and Trishna Rajadhyaksha.
“Hello. Please make yourselves comfortable. I’ll get some water.”
I motioned politely to the couch in the sitting area near the entrance and went to the kitchen to get them some water, wondering what the hell this was all about. It didn’t seem like a casual visit. These women, impeccably dressed, clearly meant business. I thought for a second how I might be looking like a hag to them, but then I shrugged the thought away the next moment. I had bigger things to worry about.
I took the tray of water to them with a bowl of some namkeen as a polite gesture. Once they had each taken their glasses of water, I bent down to put the bowl of namkeen onto the centre table. As I did so, I caught Sheila looking at me and her eyes flickering to my forehead. As she did so, she glanced towards the other two ladies and gently nodded. I caught the movement and worried she might have noticed my bruise. I went to the dining table to deposit the tray there and set my hair appropriately as I returned to the sitting area.
I took a seat on one of the folding chairs placed opposite the couch and placed my hands on my lap, joining them together in anticipation. What the hell did they want?
After a moment, Sheila spoke.
“So Richa. How are you? How’s your job going?”
Oh God. Small talk. Needless small talk.
“Just fine. Thank you for asking ma’am.”
“Please call me Sheila.”
I smiled at her, hoping she would get to the point quickly. I decided to hasten the process.
“So what brings you here?”
After a few moments of hesitation and silence during which the three ladies shot uncomfortable glances at each other, Sheila finally decided to take the lead.
“We know Richa.”
“Know what?” I asked, though I had a bad feeling I knew what they were referring to.
“About your husband...umm...beating you.”
“What? My husband doesn’t do any such thing.”
“But...I have seen your bruise. It’s right there on your forehead.”
“I don’t mean to sound rude Sheila,” I said firmly, “but just because you see a shiner on my head you assume it’s because of a beating from Shekhar? I got this because I got pushed in the metro and I banged my head against one of the poles inside. That’s all.”
“Richa, Rajeev told me everything. Your husband Shekhar tells him about...your arguments.”
“Which couple does not have arguments? Yes, we too have our share of fights and disagreements, but that doesn’t have to mean he beats me. What a preposterous suggestion!”
“Look Richa,” Mary said, “You don’t have to be afraid. Trishna and I are from an NGO which deals with cases like yours. We have a lot of women who are victims of domestic violence coming to us for help and building a new life for themselves. We can help you financially and emotionally. We shall provide complete support and assistance to you on all fronts. You don’t have to be afraid of anyone. Not even your husband.”
“But I am not afraid. Nothing scary is happening to me. I am happy with my husband, thank you very much,” I said beginning to get irked now.
Then Trishna spoke to me, trying to persuade me. “I hope you are right. Because we have received stories to the contrary. If Mr. Shekhar Kamal abuses you in any way, any way at all, physically, mentally, sexually, you can turn to us for help. There is no need to be afraid.”
“I assure you three ladies that there is nothing of the sort happening, at the moment. If I am ever in need of your support I shall inform you. As of now, my husband does not beat me. He does not abuse me physically or in any other way.”
The three of them looked at each other hopelessly and then probably resigned to accept my stand on the matter, because then Sheila said, “Alright then Richa. I am sorry to bother you.”
I merely smiled. I was quite irritated by then.
I accompanied them to the door and bid them goodbye. Just before I shut the door, Sheila turned around and handed me a slip of paper on which there was a number scribbled.
“This is my contact number. Please call me day or night, if there is any need for any sort of assistance. Alright? There is no need to hesitate.”
“Thank you Sheila,” I smiled again and shut the door behind her.
I turned around and stared at the slip of paper in my hand.
I then proceeded towards the bathroom again. I threw the slip of paper in the dustbin in my room as I entered the bathroom and bolted it behind me. I took off my t-shirt again, and went and stood in front of the washbasin.
As I stared at the bruise on my forehead and the others on my back and around my waist, I smiled slightly, to myself. They would never understand. Few people might.
I did not have any problem. I just couldn’t tell them I enjoy the ‘beating’ my dear husband gives me, could I?