Looking at the trophy on the shelf again, Dhara smiled. Last night, as she had received the award for “Best Singer Female” on stage, the applause re-vibrated through the auditorium. But it had not been easy, getting here. It had taken all her strength and courage to pull herself together and move on.
Two years’ back…
The doorbell rang. Hurriedly wiping her hands on the kitchen napkin, Dhara rushed to open the door. Mohit stood on the other side, immaculately dressed as always. With a quick smile and a peck on her cheek, he walked in with luggage in tow. He had just returned from an overseas tour of two weeks. A businessman, his work took him across continents frequently. Theirs was an arranged marriage with a mere courtship of four weeks. Yet, they had fallen in love with each other over time and Mohit kept her happy.
As Mohit went to shower, Dhara put finishing touches to the meal that she had lovingly prepared. She had made Rajma Chawal*, his favourite along with Bhindi Masala* and Rotis*. She laid the table and waited for Mohit to join her. Mohit walked in, refreshed and handed her a large paper bag. She squealed in delight as she uncovered a few boxes of her favourite fragrances purchased from the duty-free store and silky, soft tops in pastels. Knowing her tastes very well, Mohit had made these purchases.
Clearing up the table post dinner, Dhara headed to the bedroom. Suddenly she heard Mohit shout, “Dhara!” Her heart stopped, not knowing what to expect. Mohit stood in front of the dresser, where his sunglasses lay beside his watches.
“Look at this layer of dust. Is this how you clean? What do you do all day? I return after so many days to this mess!” not giving her a chance to answer, Mohit glared at her and walked away.
Dhara sighed. She had cleaned this only a couple of days ago with fear. Fear because Mohit was particular about how his things were placed back. The cleaning was easy, it was the setting back that was difficult. If anything was even slightly out of place, Mohit raised hell at home.
She quickly decided to wipe the surface, before he lost his temper again. Carefully placing his things back in place, she headed to shower and change for the night. By the time she got to bed, Mohit was already fast asleep. Disappointed as she had been looking forward to some couple time together, she turned to her side and fell into a restless sleep.
She got up as the clock struck 6.30 AM and headed to the kitchen. Mohit left for the gym and would be back in an hour. He liked a good, nutritious breakfast and she set the eggs to boil. An hour later, she was laying the table when Mohit walked in, full of sweat. He rushed to the shower and came back refreshed. Sitting down, he glanced at the food in front of him. Boiled eggs and toasted brown bread, just how he liked it. A tall glass of orange juice and assorted fruits were spread out too.
“Oh lord…For the last one year, all I get is boiled eggs and toasted bread at home. Can you not make something else, Dhara?” Mohit scoffed.
Dhara’s eyes moistened and she hurriedly blinked to hide the pain. She replied in a shaky tone, “Mohit, earlier whenever I used to make anything else for breakfast, you insisted on only eggs and toasted bread. In fact, I have been following this pattern only because of you.”
“It’s senseless trying to speak to you. I don’t want any breakfast. I will eat at the hotel where my business meeting is to be held.” In a rush to get up, Mohit accidentally knocked over the glass of orange juice and it shattered. But he didn’t stop even for a second. The shattered pieces on the floor looked just like Dhara’s heart at that moment.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. In the evening, Mohit called and told her not to wait up for dinner as he was meeting his school friends. Listlessly, Dhara went through the motions and fell asleep watching television.
The incessant doorbell woke her up. She rubbed her eyes and realised that it was past midnight. Mohit stood at the door, completely sloshed. Pushing her aside, he said, “Woman, how long do you take to open the door? Can you even do anything properly?”
Dhara roused from deep sleep, lost it too and retorted in irritation, “Then why do you have to come so late? And that too, so drunk? You can’t even stand properly on your feet!”
“Don’t you dare reply back! Have your parents not taught you that you shouldn’t speak in that tone? I am your HUSBAND, always remember that!”
The mention of her parents got Dhara agitated.
“Yes, my parents taught me manners. But they also said that I should stand up against what is wrong.”
“Don’t! I am warning you. I don’t even know why I married you and here we are still together after seven years. You can’t keep me happy in bed, neither do you give me a child! My parents were right, I should have left you a long time ago!”
“BASTARD! I don’t give you a child? YOU have never wanted one. I take care of your every need and this is what I get? And I can’t keep you happy in bed? Talk about yourself, Mohit! There is a lot left to be desired.”
In a flash, Mohit’s hand caught hold of her neck and he said, “Don’t you ever speak to me like that again, I am warning you. It won’t take me a moment to get hold of the kitchen knife and slash your throat. Once and for all, it will be over.” Shoving her aside, Mohit headed to the bedroom and slammed the door, locking it.
Dhara slumped down to the floor. It felt like all energy was drained out of her. Who was this stranger in her bedroom? This was not the Mohit she knew and loved. The Mohit she loved had been understanding, accommodating at most times, not this drunk idiot who was ready to assault her! Agreed Mohit too had raised his hand at her a couple of times in all the years they had been married. But she had then provoked him to the brink, she reminded herself.
She went and lay down on her makeshift bed for the night, the sofa. Something was wrong, she knew but couldn’t pinpoint. She kept replaying their fight in her mind and slowly drifted off to sleep.
The next morning when she woke up, Mohit greeted her with sullen silence. He got ready and left for office without eating breakfast. Her guilt kept eating at her through the day. Maybe she had pushed him too hard, maybe she was wrong! Her mom always said that women needed to be patient. But her mind kept repeating that her dad had never behaved in that fashion.
As she returned home from the market in the evening, she was surprised to see Mohit at home, a beautiful bouquet of roses and lilies in hand. Her favourite! Before she could react, he interjected, “Dhara, I am sorry. But you provoked me. You shouldn’t say such things. I am your husband and I deserve some respect.”
A part of her was thrilled that Mohit had apologised to her properly for the first time in their married life and yet, her mind said that he was indirectly laying all the blame of the fight on her. He was making it sound that she had been unreasonable, yet here he was making amends. That somehow he felt that it should be her apologizing.
She stayed silent not saying a word. It hurt but it was better to keep the peace in the house for now. She simply nodded and hugged him.
Mohit’s phone kept pinging while he was in the shower. Dhara would’ve ignored it, but the pinging wouldn’t stop. Curious, she took a peek at the messages showing in the notification screen. It was from someone called Drishti. Drishti was asking him when he would be coming back. And that she was upset that he had not called her last night. Alarm bells rang in her head. Who was this Drishti? Where was Mohit meant to go? Why was Drishti upset that Mohit had not spoken to her? And why did this name sound familiar?
Dhara heard the water turn off in the shower and hurried out of the room. She did not want to be seen by Mohit now or question him although suspicion had already raised its ugly head. Even when Mohit and she were together in bed, she couldn’t stop thinking. The questions kept circling in her mind, but there were no answers. Maybe she was imagining things, she tried to convince herself.
The next few days passed peacefully. And Mohit travelled out on tour again.
Reading the newspaper, Dhara came across a pamphlet which advertised ‘Classical Singing’ classes in the vicinity. She had started training before marriage, but left it mid-way. Life had given her this opportunity again and she enrolled herself without thinking twice.
Mohit was back in town after a week. Clearing up his bag after he left for office, she came across an unused pack of condoms while sifting through his clothes. And suspicion was back.
She quickly checked his Facebook and Instagram accounts. His settings had been changed to private and she could see nothing on it. Earlier too, they had never been a part of each other’s accounts as they had trusted each other. Now she was not so sure.
Later at night as she got ready for bed, she asked “Mohit, aren’t you getting to bed now?”
“No, I have some quotations to work on. You go ahead.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him about the condoms, his Facebook and Instagram, but she held herself back. Somehow, she fell asleep.
She woke up with a start at 2.30 AM. Mohit’s side of the bed was still vacant. She got up and headed to the den, his home office when she heard voices coming from inside. He was on a video call she guessed. The door was slightly ajar and she listened quietly standing at the door.
“Why? Why do you need money now, Drishti? I just bought you a ring before I left yesterday” she heard Mohit saying.
The voice at the other end replied, “Mohit, we are engaged to be married. I want to buy some things before we travel out for our vacation soon. Don’t you think I should buy something sexy, huh?”
“Ha..ha, Oh yeah sweetheart. I can’t wait for us to be together on vacation. I just booked our tickets. Will finalize our hotel and other details in a day or two. And don’t worry, I will transfer some money tomorrow. Make sure you buy something that I will enjoy helping you slip out of….” he laughingly replied.
Dhara was shocked. She now recognized the voice and the name. It was Drishti, Mohit’s ex-girlfriend! But they had broken up long before Mohit and Dhara met. Obviously, there was so much she didn’t know. She could hardly believe her own ears!
Suddenly, the door opened with a jerk and Mohit stood before her. Dhara looked up at his face, expecting surprise or shock, even remorse. Instead what she saw was only anger.
“Dhara, what are you doing here? How many times have I told you not to eavesdrop while I am working!”
“You call this working? Wow! What are you doing with Drishti? Yes, I heard everything, so there is no point denying it” she screamed.
“I don’t even want to deny it. Yes, Drishti and I are together again. When the wife can’t keep one happy, a man has every right to look for pleasure outside. And Drishti is still quite good looking” he smirked at that.
Without thinking, she raised her hand, but Mohit’s reflexes were faster. He held her hand, quickly twisting her arm behind her.
“Don’t you dare! I must say, your parents haven’t taught you any manners! Always using foul language or trying to hurt your husband” he goaded her.
“Yes, and your parents raised you like a typical male chauvinist pig! To think women are subservient and with no identity of their own.”
Mohit jerked her head at that and said, “Be thankful I haven’t thrown you out yet. But I think the day will come sooner than I think. Either that or I will kill you.”
There. He had said it again. For the first time, Dhara realized the danger she was in. Keeping calm, she replied, “Don’t worry, you won’t have to. I will leave myself tomorrow.”
Mohit laughed. A throaty laugh that felt like a stab in her heart.
“Yeah, right. We will see” he scoffed, confident that he could do as he pleased and she would continue on. Pushing her away, he walked back into the den, slamming the door in her face.
She went to her bedroom and wept bitterly. For the years gone by, for the man she had loved and lost. There was no denying it, she had to leave. She now understood how she had been making excuses for his absence, the lack of love and attention at times, always telling herself that it was his work, that he found it hard to express himself. But now she knew better.
She left the next morning at dawn and headed to her parents’ place. In a calm and composed state, she explained the situation to her parents. They were shocked too at his behaviour and asked her why she hadn’t mentioned any of this before. The one thing her dad said while he hugged her, “Never at the cost of your self-respect. And whatever your decision, we will stand by you.”
Mohit turned up in the evening. Begging and pleading, he tried convincing her parents that Dhara had over-reacted. That she was being unnecessarily suspicious. Her parents who had earlier revered him, now politely showed him the door.
Then the threats started. First he said that he would kill himself. Then he said he would get her killed. And through it all, her family and friends rallied around. They hired a private investigator to gather evidence that Mohit had cheated on her. And that he had threatened her too. Every time life pulled her down, her resolve to fight it and come out of it, grew stronger. And all through this, she continued to pursue her singing, working on her voice.
On the coaxing of her Guru*, she filled out the form for “The Voice India” auditions and was selected. As she was mentored by the best in the industry, she learnt to put her personal issues on the side and concentrated on her music. When she won, it was no surprise to others around her. Offers poured in and overnight, she became a singing sensation. Her personal life was splashed across the papers and finally, Mohit gave in, signing the divorce papers. He didn’t want to be associated with a loose woman, he said. Not that she cared anymore.
Life had come a full circle she now knew. And she had never been happier. You had to look past the ugliness, to discover the beauty underneath. ‘Finding Her Voice’ was the best thing that had happened to her…
Rajma Chawal – An Indian dish of Red Kidney beans with white rice
Bhindi Masala – An Indian dish made of Okra/ Ladysfinger
Rotis – An Indian Flatbread
Guru – Teacher
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