I, Sanchala, was born with a silver spoon; no, I was born with accounting software in a gilded pen drive! Both my parents, Vishwanath and Ranjani were chartered accountants and were partners in a successful firm. The firm was founded by Rajaram and Vasanthi. They had a son, Ravi, who was four years older than me. I suspected that both sets of parents entertained fond hopes of us entering the bond of matrimony and carrying forward the family business!
Ravi and I were fond of each other as we grew up. He was there for me whenever I needed him. I was quite sensitive when I was a child. After my pre-school, I was enrolled in the prestigious convent school where Ravi was already in class 4. Ravi watched over me every single moment. Once, when I was in sixth class, an older boy was stalking me. Ravi came in like a knight-in-shining-armor and admonished him. He abused and tried to hit Ravi. Ravi overpowered him and took him to the principal’s room. The principal scolded him and made him apologize to me. As he left the principal’s room, this boy gave me a look that sent shivers up my spine. That was the last I saw of him. Maybe he transferred out. From then on, Ravi assumed the position of my “protector-in-chief”.
Come project time, extra-curricular activities, or anything I had trouble with, Ravi was always there for me. We were quite comfortable in our relationship. He introduced me to the world of reading when I was only eight. Starting with Enid Blyton, I graduated to Agatha Christie, comics, and abridged versions of classics. This romance with books continued and became a part of me under the tutelage of Ravi.
Ravi qualified as a chartered accountant in due course with a gold medal. I followed him after four years matching his performance. Our parents were pleased as punch. Our friends’ circle termed us as “Golden Couple’. I got tired of telling them that we were great friends and nothing beyond that. They smirked knowingly accompanied by winks and guffaws.
Ravi was already handling individual accounts when I joined the firm four years later. I was put under Aunt Vasanthi. She was a hard taskmaster, but kind and gently persuasive. One taskmaster asked me to attend to an important client by myself as she had some pressing work. I reached the august offices of the ‘Prashant Steel Works.’ I was shown to the office of Prashant, the son of the promoter and currently the Chief Finance Officer of the company.
It was a corner office on the top floor of the all-glass-steel building. I gently knocked on the door and a masculine voice commanded me to enter. I tried to slowly open the heavy door when someone rushed to the door and yanked it open. There stood a Greek god. I lost my heart and soul then and there…
He politely introduced himself as Prashant. He was tall and handsome, attractive in a way that moved my entire being.
“Would you like some coffee and biscuits?”.
I politely declined and we went to work. He called his assistants and we were immersed in complicated financial matters. When the meeting came to an end, Prashant said,” Would you like to go out to dinner tonight?”
Words stuck in my throat and I nodded my head demurely.
“Right then, I shall pick you up at your house around seven.” He escorted me to the bank of elevators and smiled as the doors closed.
That was the start of a whirlwind romance. After a pleasant evening in a posh restaurant, Prashant dropped me off at about 10 pm. He did not make any attempt to get close to me physically. Perfect gentleman. My inner heart wished he had been somewhat less than perfect!
Early the next morning, I received a bouquet of a dozen Red Roses and a box of swiss chocolates. This routine followed the number of roses following a diminishing pattern. When a Single rose arrived in due course, it was accompanied by an invitation for a Broadway production and dinner afterward. It was an unforgettable night.
This pattern continued for a few months. One day, when I returned from the office, I saw an expensive limousine in our driveway. Curious, I peeped into the living room. Prashant was sitting in the center of the sofa, flanked on either side by an elderly lady and gentleman. Both of them had class written all over them.
My father enthusiastically greeted me, “Oh, Sanchu, we were all waiting for you. Have you met Prashant’s parents? He has something important to ask you.” Puzzled, I looked at my mother. She flashed an encouraging smile.
Prashant removed a blue velvety jewel box, opened it, and extended it towards me. Nestled in satin was a sparking solitaire diamond ring. “Sanchala, will you marry me? I am sure our parents will be as delighted as myself, if you say yes.” Once again, the cat got my tongue. I accepted the ring and blushed furiously.
For the next hour, I was a silent witness to pleasant exchanges among all the five. My dulled senses caught stray words, “engagement”, and “next Friday”.
Within fifteen minutes after they left, Ravi showed up with a great bouquet of flowers. He seemed thrilled. We talked about Prashant’s supersonic courtship and talked for hours with more than a usual splatter of good-natured ribbing from Ravi.
When I went down to see off Ravi, my parents pounced upon us. “Hey Ravi, I don’t want you anywhere near the office for this week. You take care of all the arrangements for the engagement. Yeah, for the wedding too, whenever the dates are fixed,” said my father with a commanding tone that one assumes with loved ones.
The engagement went off very well. Ravi had left nothing to chance. Everyone remotely important in the town showed up. I was still floating in the air. The next morning Prashant came up to my room, hiding something behind him. He asked me to close my eyes and not open them until he said so. I could hear a chair being drawn and some clanging sounds.
“Open your eyes now, Sanch,” said Prashant. Hanging on a hook that I had not noticed before was a gilded cage. Sitting on a perch was the most beautiful bird I have ever seen. It had gorgeous blue feathers and yellow markings around the eyes and the beak. And I came to know later that it was a Hyacinth Macaw, a South American bird costing upwards of thirty lakhs.
The wedding took place the next month. Once again, Ravi exceeded himself. Once the festivities were over, Ravi handed over an envelope to Prashant. It was an all-paid one-week trip to the French Riviera. Truly puzzled, I exclaimed,” Ravi, how do you know Prashant and I have not planned anything for the honeymoon? I was wondering when Prashant skillfully avoided the subject. I thought he would spring a surprise on me.”
“Oh, my good buddy Prashant played interference for me. I had sworn him to secrecy as well. We both are lucky to have him, Sanch!”
I don’t know how that one week passed. With his meticulous attention to detail, Ravi had made perfect arrangements.
Time passes quickly when you have unalloyed happiness. Prashant and I worked hard on a project of his during the weekdays. Weekends were glorious with just the two of us.
Prashant’s father had taken over an ailing steel mill in Berne, Germany. Prashant was modernizing it pumping huge sums of money. Both of us made several trips to Europe with the right mix of business and pleasure. Once we spent a week in Gstaad, Switzerland. I fell in love with the soaring snowclad mountains and various ski resorts nearby. I especially loved Wispile and Rinderberg. The expert skier that he was, Prashant taught me skiing.
I wistfully remarked during one of our intimate moments,” Prashant, I wish we could live here permanently.”
“Well, my dear, we can visit. As often as you like. Between German and Indian operations, we cannot shift permanently. Sorry, my dear!”, said Prashant regretfully. I said, “It was just a pipe dream! Don’t worry too much about it. I am happy wherever you are.”
The time came to inaugurate the state-of-the-art steel works at Berne. All our families including Ravi spent about a month seeing to it that all operations ran smoothly. Ravi and Prashant worked closely on financial matters.
After seeing everyone off to India, Prashant and I returned to our Hotel. Prashant asked me to pack up everything and be ready for an early start. He said we had an unfinished business to take care of.
We had an early breakfast. The bellhop carried our luggage to a plum red Ferrari. I stopped in my tracks. “It is my delayed wedding present, my darling!”, said Prashant. A liveried servant opened the door for me. Prashant took the wheel and that was the most exhilarating ride I ever had. Prashant was an ace driver. Quickly we reached the foothills of the Swiss Alps. I saw the familiar landscape of Gstaad. He drove past the usual resort we usually stayed in and went further uphill.
The Ferrari stopped in front of a beautiful chalet away from all the tourists’ hot spots. It was isolated and nestled in gentle slopes. He rang the bell and it was opened by a middle-aged German woman. She was in a frilled uniform. Her tall and muscular personality was quite awe-inspiring. In gentle, accented English, she welcomed me addressing me as Frau Sanchala. Her name was Hilda Schmidt.
I raised a quizzical eyebrow at Prashant. The devil with a glint of mischief said, “Welcome, my love! I believe you expressed a wish for a permanent home in the mountains. Here it is!”
I fell onto the ornate sofa with its cushions practically swallowing me. After enjoying the refreshments offered by Hilda, Prashant showed me around the chalet and its environs. He nonchalantly pointed to a locked room with a grand arched doorframe and said, “That’s our bedchamber, milady! We shall ceremoniously occupy it in the night after our first dinner. Hilda is an excellent chef, handyman, all-in-one!”
The rest of the day was spent driving about the hillsides. We had lunch at a small eatery in one of those ski villages. He plied me with fruits and snacks at regular intervals. We returned to the chalet tired but extremely happy.
Hilda had set up a simple but tasty dinner accompanied by a choice of wines, Bordeaux or Burgandy. Prashant warned me to go easy on the wine as he had a bottle of Dom Perignon cooling in a silver ice bucket as a post-dinner treat.
I really enjoyed the wonderful dinner. Just as I took a few sips of the champagne, I felt incredibly drowsy. Prashant noticed my not-so-discrete yawning and said,” Now is the time for your big surprise, mon Cherie!” He gently tied a black chiffon ribbon around my eyes and admonished,” No peeping!” He gently led me to the chamber and opened the door .As soon as we crossed the portal, I could smell a pleasant fragrance wafting and tickling my nostrils. He twirled me gently. He removed the blindfold. I was facing the ornate door. I slowly turned around.
“How was I to know this was a wrong turn?!”
I felt faint and was falling backward. Prashant held me firmly and led me forward.
When I came to, I found myself in a circular bed with gossamer mattresses. I was still woozy but gradually realized that my hands and feet were tied up in chains fixed to the bed. Prashant was sitting in a cushioned chair staring at me with baleful eyes.
“Oh, the precious princess has woken up, is it? This was the day I was waiting for twenty long years. You are truly mine, lock, stock, and barrel”
I shrieked in a panic-stricken voice,” Prashant, why are you talking in this tone? What is with the chains? What has happened to you?”
“I set my eyes on you, you spoiled brat, when you and your precious Ravi took me to the principal. I never felt so humiliated. I have bided my time, as revenge is best served cold. Enjoy your beauty sleep, angel!” With that parting shot, he left the room, carefully locking it behind him.
Hilda, my jailor, supplied me with food. She would bathe me and dress me every day. She would also force some tablets down my throat at regular intervals. I was permanently oscillating between a hazy consciousness and deep sleep. Every night Prashant would enter the room and perpetrate untold sexual acts upon me. He would keep inventing new forms of torture to inflict on me.
I lost count of days as I went through this living hell. He had taken my laptop, forced the password out of me, and regularly send e-mails to our parents and as well as Ravi. He had taken several pictures of our happier times and would skillfully attach them to my emails. He was dexterously manipulating everyone into believing that we had a great time in our very own chalet.
One day, just as Hilda gave me my pills, Prashant stepped behind her, slipped a thin wire around her throat, and garroted her. With crazed eyes, he pronounced,” there goes your only witness. Just wait. I have asked Ravi to come to the Frankfurt airport. I shall bring him here by my private plane. Nobody will know where he disappeared. But, you my dear will be my slave until I tire of this charade.”
He rushed out carefully locking the door behind him. It was hours when I could hear the key turning in the lock. With a wolfish grin, he unchained me. Although the sedative effects of the medicine were no longer there, I still felt woozy. I felt extremely weak as though even lifting a spoon will be an arduous task.
He led me to the hall. I was shell-shocked at the sight that greeted me. Ravi was trapped in a sofa with multiple restraints holding him prisoner. I dropped into the nearest chair bereft of all my strength.
Prashant addressed Ravi in a heckling voice. “Ravi, nobody knows your whereabouts after you landed in Frankfurt. My flight plan shows only me as a pilot with no passengers. My faithful bodyguard has been neutralized and is safely ensconced in the icy ravines. The very same fate awaits you, Mon Ami! This chalet is bought under an assumed name. After I have enough fun with this bitch, I will burn this to cinders and no one will be the wiser. Chanchal, I had not spared Ravi of any details of your travails. He had a ringside seat watching all that you went through these days.”
Now he removed a pistol from his jacket, slipped the safety catch off, and aimed it at Ravi. He cackled, “Don’t fret, my darling! There is no strength in you to even move an inch. Relax right where you are and enjoy the execution of your beloved.”
A mighty roar assaulted my ears. The next thing I knew I had the smoking pistol in my hand, Prashant had multiple gunshot wounds. His lifeless eyes stared balefully at me. I looked at Ravi with dazed eyes.
Ravi said in a calm voice,” Chanchu, just hold on a little while. Look in his pockets, he had a remote control, which he used to bind me to this chair. Just free me; I shall take care of everything. “
When I woke up, I found myself on the circular bed, this time with nothing to hold me. Oh, sweet freedom! I hardly knew what all Ravi did. All I know is that when we left the chalet behind it was blazing. In what seemed as moments, we were back in India in the comforts of our home. During our long trip home, Ravi impressed upon me to keep silent about the horrors to spare the parents. The day after our arrival, I lodged a complaint with the police that my husband was to join me in India the previous day. He was unreachable. Nobody has seen him in the factory since he left for his home. Since my father knew the police commissioner, they contacted Interpol. After a few days, it was reported that he was found to be dead; a victim of fire accident in a remote chalet.
Ravi was a tower of strength. He mended my body and soul. Slowly I was able to push the horrible experiences to the recesses of my mind. But the deep hurt was like a thorn in the depths of my being.
Time was hanging heavily on me. I had a lot to mull over. Ravi was a tower of strength as I was limping back to normalcy. Suddenly one day it hit me like a thunderbolt. My one and only true love had always been Ravi. I had been a damn fool all my life!
Maybe, the time has come for me to take a right turn…
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