Sundays for me are hurry days as well as worry days.
Hurry because I have a load at hand.
I mean which married woman wouldn’t.
With two naughty kids, a girl and a boy furiously on the doors of twentydom; plus, a hubby who feels the Lord himself must supplicate to him and cater to all his whims and fancies. Add to this the attendant duties that follow–the kitchen work, the food, the washing, the dishing, the grooming, the shouting, the screaming, the pleading and cajoling…the list goes on and on…
The paraphernalia that go with managing a ‘vibrant’ household on a day to day basis is by itself a Herculean task, to say the least.
I mean I would kill any man who harbours such cave man views!) who believes, and says so with the utter nonchalance when asked what his wife does : ‘Oh! She’s is a mere housewife!); the tone reeking of a highly repulsive nauseating insolence.
Anyways this story is not about me.
I mean who would want to hear a 40-year old married woman harangue about the mundanity of marital existence.
This story is about Kanika.
Kanika Mishra- my bestie, my partner in crime, and currently lady in infinite distress.
Kanika and I go a long way back. Born in the same neighbourhood, we grew up together. We lived cheek by jowl, our houses, your typical cookie jar ‘ground plus 3 floor ‘sarkari’ two room flats that were dabbed a drab jaundiced yellow.
A chubby, ever bubbly always smiling girl, Kanika aka Kanu was one bundle of joi de vivre.
School followed, and our friendship flowered and bloomed. She was the exact antithesis of me. Whilst I was the soft spoken, reticent, introverted type who had real trouble venturing out of safe cocoons, she was the outgoing kind. Tomboyish to the core, Kanu was always upto some prank or the other. I remember when once she had a ‘fight’ with a boy. We were in Class 12, and it was our project submission day. So, there was this guy, his name was Harish. One insufferable bore he was.
A gang leader of sorts, Harish moved around the school as if he owned it (the Vice-Principal was his ‘mama’, or that’s what he boasted!). Add to this was the fact that he was an incorrigible flirt who lived in perennial delusion that he was God’s gift to womankind. So, it was that he had made a pass at every object (read girl) that moved around in a skirt. And most girls used to supplicate to him and vie to be called his girl not just for the fact he was drop dead handsome, what with a flock of jet black curly hair that sat sanguinely over a head and face that screamed Salman Khan. Imagine the shock of his life when he passed an evil eye at our own Kanika and she, the smart no nonsense girl that she was, royally rebuffed him. In fact, I remember, her exact words were, ‘I don’t entertain ignoramus nincompoops like you’.
Now that was a huge blow to our ‘Adonis’, and soon word spread like wildfire that Kanika Mishra had shown the royal middle finger to the ‘most happening stud of Bharati Public School, R.K.Puram, Delhi.
And that established her reputation as a badass girl who gives as bad as she gets’.
Call it the boy’s bruised ego and plausibly the umpteen insidious curses he must have hurled (albeit silently) at Kanika, but that’s the incident that opened up the floodgates of gargantuan misfortunes that inveigled themselves into Kanu’s life.
First that came visiting was Akshat Joshi. A strapping six foot tall guy, two years senior to us and from Vidya Bhavan High School, a mere 50 meters away from ours, Rahul was eyeing us for quite some time. And one day, while cycling back after school, we heard someone say ”Excuse me’.
Though it sounded a mere whisper, but thanks to the slight October breeze, the sound registered itself in our ears a few octaves higher.
A tad irritated, I had turned around and to my utter surprise, I saw the most handsome boy I had come across in my pithy 15 years of existence on Planet Earth.
Even as we were gaping at this boy, he alighted from his bike, and walked the two steps towards us.
I noticed a slight movement. I looked closely and saw a hand come up from behind his back, and, a red rose.
My eyes did a double take. I thought this guy, who we had never ever met, leave alone exchanged a word, was about to propose me.
We, both Kanika and I, shot a quick incredulous glance at each other.
Our expressions were a dead give away.
Who was it going to be? Who was the lucky girl?
Was it Kanika? Or, me? Me? Kanika? While our brains, pretty much in the throes of a seizure, were grappling with this million dollar question, a voice, sweet as honey, scythed the air.
“Will you be my girlfriend”?
And this time it was no mistaking.
Our stranger had taken a shine to Kanika.
On bended knees, he was now, rose in hand, looking at Kanika, a heart stopping smile on his lips.
Kanika, for a nano second, looked at me.
Her eyes, a firebrand, shone redder than the angriest sun.
I thought she was about to say NO. Or, slap the guy.
Then, she turned away, and this time locked eyes with her ‘suitor’.
And then, in a gesture that I still find so unbecoming of the Kanika I knew, she smiled the most beautiful ever, and accepted the rose.
And that’s how the Kanika-Akshat affair started, two supposedly crazy for each other love birds, who thought the world began and ended in each other’s arms.
Like wildfire the news of their romance spread as the two, caught madly in the throes of first love, painted the town red, throwing all caution to the winds.
It was a sight to watch. My friend, my bestie, who I had seen and grown up with since we were babies, was now a glowing, ever smiling irrepressible teenager in love. Kanishk, as the two were famously called, were as inseparable as Siamese twins.
For the next five years, I saw at close quarters what it means to be in love and be loved.
I felt I was living the dream vicariously through my best friend and felt as much blessed as I knew these happy souls were.
Alas! Little was I to know that life had other plans.
It was a Monday afternoon. With three classes over and the last cancelled, Kanika and I were sipping tea at the roadside shack outside our college.
Earlier she had called Akshat; he was expected to pick her up any moment.
It was the latter’s 22nd birthday, and we had all planned to give a surprise party at a prominent city eatery.
But before that the two had their own plans- a ride to the countryside, a quiet lunch, followed by a visit to Gurudwara Bangla Saheb in the evening.
Kanika’s phone rang.
Lost in thoughts, Kanika failed to hear the ring tone.
‘Kanu, pick up your phone. It’s been ringing for a while’, I nudged Kanika.
The next minute time stood still as Kanika answered the phone.
It was Hari, a common friend of ours.
The phone was on speaker.
The words, were halting and seemed to come from outer space.
“THERE’S…AN ACCIDENT…AKSHAT IS….HE IS DEAD”.
Thereafter, I didn’t hear anything.
The phone dropped from Kanika’s hands.
I heard a wail, a piercing heart wrenching muffled scream.
I turned around only to see Kanika’s near lifeless form drop to the ground.
And with that her world had come crashing down.
It would be a long time thereafter before my dear bestie would regain some sense of normalcy and inch back to life.
7 YEARS LATER…
It was our third wedding anniversary.
Vikram, the Leo that he was, had planned a grand celebration. The Maurya Sheraton, no less.
An exclusive dinner was planned; only close family friends were invited.
With five minutes for the clock to hit 12, and when we were all gathered in a semi-circle and the cake was about to be cut, I felt a small tap on my shoulder.
I looked around and voila!
Who do I see?
My bestie Kanika.
Momentarily stunned, I turned around and hugged her.
Don’t know what I felt but I kissed her on the cheek.
She had out on weight, her face was slightly bloated, but aside that, she was still the show stopper- dazzling smile, starry eyes, happy face et al.
I heard hubby dear nudge me to cut the cake. When we blew the candles there was much laughing and clapping and the de rigueur jingle sung with much gusto by one and all.
The guests all then went their separate ways, read to attack the delicious buffet spread. I pulled Kanika aside to the poolside.
Little did I know that joining us would be a young man.
I looked at Kanika for an answer.
‘Meet Vishal, my fiance’
Vishal proffered a sanguine ‘Hi’.
I looked at him.
Ramrod straight, he was tall, in a way ruggedly handsome what with his well groomed beard and a goatee to boot. He had the persona of a well travelled man, and I could see from the oh so subtle naughty glint in his slate grey eyes that he was quite a ladies man.
“Congratulations!” was all that escaped my lips.
And that was that.
We all had dinner and parted.
The following day, it was Kanika who called.
It was from a new number.
I picked up the phone.
‘Kanika, where have you been all these years?’
I knew that after Akshat’s death, she was in a terrible shape. She was admitted to hospital the day he was cremated.
The doctors pulled her out from the brink of death.
The girl, just about unable to come to terms with the loss of Akshat, had consumed no less than three dozen sleeping pills. Add to that, she had slit her wrist. Had her mother not found her on the bathroom floor, unconscious and bathed in her own blood, and had she had not been rushed to hospital on time, she would have died.
A month later, her parents, had left town with their only child.
The decision and her leaving town was so sudden that it took everyone by surprise.
It was only a few weeks later that I got to know, and that too from a distant cousin of hers that Kanika was in Canada.
I had tried calling her several times but her number went unreachable.
The next few weeks and months I tried all possible channels to somehow connect with her but to no avail.
All my efforts bit the dust.
I had by then moved to Bengaluru for my MBA.
The two years there were spent engrossed in studies, and when I graduated, I had landed myself a job at E &Y in Singapore.
Plus, a bonus.
I got married to Vikrant, the guy who topped our batch amd who I had a glad eye for.
The next six years I spent a busy existence shuffling between cities and ensuring my bosses were in awe of my work.
The result: A fat cat salary along with a promotion. I was now the South Asia Head of a major software consulting firm and back in my hometown, and in my favourite city Delhi.
I met my bestie today. I hadn’t seen her for seven long years.
How could I?
I was whisked away to Canada by my parents.
They were too worried.
And rightly so. Who wouldn’t?
Seeing their only child curled up in bathroom, her body swathed in blood, mere heartbeats away from sure death, what parents would ever keep quiet.
And leave their only child suffering and all alone at death’s door?
And so I was taken away to Toronto. The cold there didn’t bite me. Neither did the odd sun that shone bright once in a blue moon.
Nothing did, in fact. For me, after Akshat every place was an alien land. I spent the next one year alternating between home and hospital. I was manic depressive, or so, said the docs. My poor parents, fearful that I may try to end my life again, kept a dog’s watch on me.
My mother took care of the mornings while the evenings it was my father who sat beside me and spent hours bringing smiles and some semblance of happiness back into my life.
Thanks to their love and care and constant support not the least the words of hope and encouragement that they drilled into my head, I slowly began to recover.
It took me a good over two years before I clawed my way back to normalcy.
And another year for me to realise that my calling was painting.
I had always dabbled with colours, but it was only after the massive loss of Akshat and the pain thereafter that I chose to and that on my good doctor’s prodding, to revisit this hobby of mine.
And it would be another three years or so before I was confident enough to hold my first solo exhibition in downtown Toronto.
The response simply blew me over. I had booked the art gallery for three days.
I needn’t have. In less than four hours, all the ‘acrylic on canvas’ paintings had sold out.
The next day I was interviewed by the local channel. The Morning Star also made a beeline.
And soon followed a dozen odd newspapers and TV channels.
Before the month had ended, I had been interviewed and read and my paintings seen and appreciated by almost half of art lovers not just in Canada but also in parts of America.
I was, as the well worn cliche goes, ‘ a most promising artistic sensation’.
This overnight metamorphosis from obscurity to fame did wonders to me, especially my psychological well being. Aided and encouraged by my parents and such fan base, I embarked with a fury and deep dived into the world of painting.
Painting became my whole sole soul mate; my friend, philosopher, guide!
My catharsis…my lifeboat.
And it was during the end of one such exhibition in New York that a man walked upto me and uttered the words, “Will you marry me”?
My hands froze, my feet went immobile as I gaped with wide open eyes at this specimen who not only had the gumption to walk up to me and propose but also managed to convey such a degree of conviction in his voice whilst mouthing his bonafide intention.
As expected, I said ‘NO’.
I repeated this umpteen times. In fact after a while, I lost count of the number of times I rebuffed him.
In the nine months that he pursued me, incessantly calling me, bumping jnto me at airports, highways, coffee shops, art galleries et al, I too stayed put, negating all his missives with a firm ‘NO’.
In this time, I got to know that his name was Piyush Sangwan. That he was a businessman based out of India, a frequent high flier and that he was sole heir to his family’s sprawling multi-national steel business.
And he was handsome to boot. Besides being extremely relentless.
After Akshat I had vowed never to get involved, leave alone marry.
But I was 30 and my parents were not getting any younger.
I had tasted professional success, and though the trauma of losing Akshat was slowly dimming, I still felt an emptiness in my heart.
I don’t know but one day when I again I bumped into Piyush and he put the oft repeated question yet again, I answered in the affirmative.
I sat down with him at a nearby cafe, and laid bare my life story. I wasn’t’ stingy with any details. Told him about Akshat. My suicidal attempts. My loss of all hope and reinventing myself and finding my calling and my mojo in painting.
For a good two hours, I told him everything, pouring my heart out.
At the end, when I found that he was still sitting across the table and that his eyes still carried the spellbound wondrous love struck expression that I had first seen some 10 months ago, my heart gladdened like nothing.
We got engaged a month later.
It’s been a year and half and we are still engaged and Piyush is as madly in love with me as he was on Day 1.
As for me, in him and with him beside me, and supporting all my endeavours, ever supportive, ever motivating and inspiring me to achieve greater glory, I feel I am now finally ready to walk down the aisle with Piyush, my man for life.
But before that I decided to make that long overdue trip to India, to revise my childhood, and to meet my best friend Shilpa.
The one who I had last met over a decade ago, my soul sister, the one to whom my past was yoked, the one who knew me as none could ever know.
And so it was that I landed in Delhi, and landed unannounced at her marriage anniversary.
I when I saw her and hugged her, it was as if a huge chunk of my childhood and teenhood had been gifted back to me.
Shilpa had grown into a beautiful gorgeous woman, and like me, I could she that she too was enormously successful albeit, in an altogether different field.
We spoke, hugged and cried a few times and spent a good over three hours bringing alive the myriad memories of our shared past.
At the end, when we bid good bye with promises to meet and keep in touch, it was as if we hadn’t ever parted.
Last night my cup of happiness filleth over. And I was at peace like never before.
Little was I to know that it was the calm before the storm, yet again.
It was Piyush’ birthday, and I had made elaborate plans for the evening. I had a long overdue meeting with my agent who wanted me to meet with a few gallery owners. We were to do a half dozen exhibitions, between Thanksgiving and New Year.
The theme, proceeds and other nitty gritty needed to be ironed out.
As such the first half would be expended on this, and then I was free to do my shopping for my beau.
By four I had wrapped up all the works, and had even picked up a bespoke all gold Rolex for Piyush.
I knew he would like it, watches being his weakness.
I checked my watch.
Quarter past six.
I had an hour to spare. Suddenly, I was hit by a brainwave.
I was in downtown. I remembered Piyush texting me that he would be in his office as he had a few client meetings. And that he would directly arrive at the venue.
I had booked tables at The Heavenly Delights, his favourite restaurant.
Ewe were to meet there at 8.
His office was a hop, skip and jump from where I was.
I decided to surprise him.
As I made my way through the Toronto pathway, zipping past two zebra crossings and took the left turn to enter the main gate of Ambrosia Heights, I felt happy. A wave of spasmodic delight ran through my veins warming the cockles of my heart.
It was a year and half since we were exchanged. I was now ready. Ready to take the plunge. And I wanted to surprise him with the happy news.
On his birthday.
Tell him that I was finally ready to walk down the aisle with him.
I stabbed the number.
I exited the 14th floor, and made my way through the corridor
His office was on the far corner. Though I had visited it only a couple of times, I knew the layout very well. I swept past the reception.
Maria wasn’t there.
My eyes swept the place. I didn’t spot anyone. Not one member of his eleven odd staff.
For once, I did a double take. Had I entered the wrong office.
But didn’t Piyush have a very important meeting today? I recalled spotting his black Hummer in the parking lot while coming up.
Maybe, the meeting was cancelled. Maybe, he had given the staff off, I surmised.
With such thoughts swirling in my mind, I entered his cabin. And my world crashed that instant.
There he was, on the couch, his pants down, on top of a girl. The sound of my footsteps broke his stride.
He turned around and looked at me. His face a melange of utter shock.
As if he didn’t expect me. As if I shouldn’t have come over. As if…
The girl under him emitted a sound that was a cross between a hyena’s squeal and a baby’s wail.
I needn’t to have looked at her.
I knew who she was; auburn hair and that high cheek bones said it all.
She was Martha.
I looked at the duo. At Piyush one last time.
He smiled. Rather, tried to smile; a twisted unhinged curve of his lips. I couldn’t really figure out whether what he wanted to achieve by that.
I had caught him with his pants down, humping his staff on his birthday.
His big day, the day when I had planned to tell him…
Aaagh! My mind was a turnstile. I felt as if hit by a million bullets, each boring deep holes into my mindscape. My heart ruptured, my body disembodied, my world brutally hacked like nothing.
I don’t know how, but somehow I managed to extricate myself from the offensive space, ran past the hallways, ran down the stairs, all 14 floors of it, and straight into my car.
The next God knows many hours, I was a zombie, hitting the highways, driving like a woman possessed, a maniac behind the wheel.
Twice I almost escaped instant death as I just about rammed my car onto a speeding oil tanker, and then once breaked just in time inches away from a fully loaded four axle mega truck.
Don’t know how far and how long I drove but when I regained senses, I was at Vancouver, and at a hospital.
I was told that I had been fished out from a lake. It seemed I had lost control and driven my car straight into the waters. It was in the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, a few factory workers coming out of their night shifts had seen it and called the police.
I was discharged a few hours later
The doctor who attended on me said, “You’re one lucky woman. Besides, a few scratches and a slight concussion on the head, for which I have prescribed a few days’ medicines, you are fine.
I thanked him, and left the hospital, saying to myself that scars and the injury is not to my body but to my mind.
The next few days, I was at home.
From what, I dunno!
I checked my phone. Several missed calls. A few text messages, as well.
It was Piyush.
All words of plea. All imploding. All near begging me to call back.
All stating that he wanted to explain things.
What had he thought?
What did he think?
That I would condone this?
That I would melt, that he would say sorry, promise that it would never happen, and things would be all right between us? We would forget all this ever happened, move on, marry, have kids and live happily ever after?
I slammed the phone down. It was a brand new IPhone, the very latest.
It broke into two.
I was ok.
After all it was just a phone.
I could always buy another one.
But what about my heart? What about my heart that broke, so cruelly smashed into smithereens?
What about it?
How can you mend a broken heart? How could anyone?
Catch the irony?
My world crashed, and was crushed, just when I was dreaming of ever lasting bliss.
My parents were aghast.
They once again saw me closeted in my room.
I refused to come out. To meet anyone.
Alarmed, they came over.
Tried to console me. It was a sorry sight. I watched my old parents, watched my mother shed copious tears.
I saw the fear in their eyes. They were fearful that I would slide back into that dark land of no return that I had slipped into after Akshat’s death.
It was then that I decided to do something about it.
The decision made, I got up, got dressed, and showed up at the dinner table. That night, after two weeks, I sat down and ate ravenously. I even smiled, laughed, cracked jokes, and then I got up and kissed my parents.
Told them I loved them a lot and that they needn’t worry about me.
That I needed some time for myself.
My father nodded, my mother understood.
The next morning I called up my agent, asked him to postpone all my meetings for a month, and booked a flight to Delhi.
To meet my best friend Shilpa.
I didn’t insist. I know her. Knew she wanted her space
So, when Kanika said that she wanted to stay in Delhi for a month or so, but that she would rather book an airbnb, I readily gave in. Didn’t insist she stay with us.
I picked her up at the airport and drove straight to the facility. I had no inkling as to the hell she’d been through.
In fact I was expecting Piyush too at the airport.
An hour later after lunch, and when we reclined on the sofa, she told me about Piyush.
I was shocked…appalled…totally taken by surprise.
Didn’t have words to say. Didn’t know how to console her.
I knew she was hurt. Who wouldn’t? In her place any other woman would.
A woman who had just about gotten over the darkest chapter of her life, had all but lost all faith and given up on life was just finding her feet again.
She believed she had found love once again. Had pushed the bitterness of the past behind her and after keeping Piyush on tenterhooks for 18 long months was ready to take the plunge into holy matrimony.
Such a woman was cheated, yet again.
I could imagine what she must have gone through when she caught the bastard red handed with another woman.
It would have been simpler had the infidel driven a knife into her chest. Ended her agony once and for all!
I looked at my friend, got up and hugged her.
I held for God knows how long.
And we sobbed and cried. Like little kids.
And when the tears dried up, we separated and bored into the other’s eyes.
And I understood.
My bestie Kanika was ready, yet again.
Ready to move on.
As proof, she blurted out, her voice an usually high pitched one.
‘Shilpa, will you let me experience the thrills that await a single woman in Delhi?’
And when said a big ‘YES’, she immediately rewarded me with the broadest heart melting smile I had seen ever since she landed in Delhi some 5 hours ago.
It’s been six months since I’ve come back from Delhi. It’s my rebirth. These six months have been a life changing experience for me. I have grown up, learnt a lot many things, and most importantly understood myself. I have understood my inner core.
Something I had wanted to know and had then gone ahead and followed every bit of advice my good friend had proffered.
Shilpa wanted me to get back to life. She has my good at heart.
She wanted me to see and experience for myself the life a successful, beautiful, educated modern single woman could live and enjoy to the hilt.
And like Mary to the lamb I meekly acceded to all her bindings.
So, the next morning of my arrival at Delhi, we visited one of the best salons of South Delhi. There I was welcomed with open arms. There for the next two hours, a retinue of young girls, all no more than twenty did something to my face, hair, legs and feet. At the end of it all, when I stepped out, and saw myself in the mirror, I was a new persona. What with my hair cut short and a deep shade of reddish brown, my face flowing like a million lamps, and my skin feeling puppy soft, I felt an entirely new person.
“OMG! You look prettier and more desirable than Princess Diana,” was Shilpa’s delighted response when she saw me.
And followed thereafter were all night partying, endless rounds of drinks, chain smoking, watching old Hindi songs that we both once were crazy about, and binge eating.
Maybe, I am cynical but I really don’t think any of that stuff works for anyone who is truly broken. Serves us better to just keep barrelling forward and hope the demons can’t cope up, so you might as well be who you are.
And so, after a month, when I hugged and bid goodbye to Shilpa and Delhi, I was ready to face the world and all it would throw me.
I knew the demons all lurked close by, and were ready to pounce at me and shred me to pieces, but I also knew that only way I could survive was to ever keep looking forward, develop a thick skin, hoping and firmly believing that I would ultimately end up trumps in this cat and mouse game.
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