A Mouthful Of Sky

Kajri, Santo and Rajjo had gathered in the common area.  Rajjo had just finished mopping the lobby. Santo had just completed segregating the garbage between wet and dry of the corner apartment where she worked.  Kajri was done with the third house before she would break for lunch.

But today was special. The madam from 301 had given Kajri a box full of gajar halwa.  Madam had hosted a big party where she was expecting 20 people. However, eight of them had not showed up. The ones who came told her that they did not like too much of sweets.   Kajri had grated the carrots for hours. Her heart was as broken as Madam’s at this outright rejection of their efforts.   Madam offered it to her kids who had rejected it even more brutally for the cake which was purchased by Bhaiya. Bhaiya had tasted the halwa and told Madam that it was too sweet. Madam insisted that she had put Sugar Free.

What a weird world it was at Madam’s house.

 

Where kids refused to eat halwa!

Where guests would turn up for dinner, only to eat nothing!

Where husbands complained that sweets should not be sweet!

But all of this did not matter anymore.  For someone has truly said,

Daane daanne pe likha hai khane wale ka naam’. While making the halwa, Kajri had wished she could take it for her children.

Maybe madam will give me leftovers…

And her wish was granted!  But she would not take it home without sharing it with her friends.  She called Rajjo and Santo to taste her box full of delicacy.

‘It is so tasty Kajri! You are learning so many new things at 301 Madam’s house!’ Rajjo said as she took the first bite in her mouth.  Food dropping from her mouth as she spoke.

Yes! That is why I said yes when Madam asked me to help her with chopping and making dough.  See, now I do full cooking for her! How many times I have told you Rajjo, always take up new work!’

Rajjo squatted on the floor, her sari lifted up to her knees. ‘Na baba! I don’t like these Madam’s chik chik. I am happy with the facility work! No individual houses!’ she said folding her hands.

‘And the supervisor chikchik! That is okay!’  asked Santo.  She looked at the tall, muscular man watching them from a distance like a hawk.

‘Come on! Finish your lunch quickly. Stop loitering around!’ The supervisor shouted at them, angry as always.

‘See, our madams are nicer than him at least!’ Santo was pleased she got to prove her point instantly.

‘You all have to work so many homes!’ Rajjo held her ground.

‘And we get so many benefits!’ Santo said revealing a fancy looking carry bag, her eyes glittering.  Inside were clothes for a teenage girl.

She lifted up a purple dress, ‘Madam from 409 gave. Sanya baby wore it once and grew tall! It will fit Rano perfectly!’

‘It is in very good condition, looks new!’ Kajri added, looking delighted.

‘There are two jean pant also! I will give it for Raju!’  Santo added. Kajri looked grateful.

Oh and Rajjo, I am going to the village for one week.   I told 604 Madam you will do the work then’.

‘I will not go there again! Last time also she did not give me a penny and I worked there for 10 days! Scolded me throughout! Both wife and husband!’

‘But I gave you Rs 500 na!  I told her we will adjust! If you don’t go, she will keep someone else. I will lose the job permanently!’

‘Okay!’ Rajjo said reluctantly. ‘Now let me get back. Subhash is staring at me since then!’ Rajjo removed some tobacco from her blouse, mixed it on her hand and started chewing it.

‘You need to stop this!  It causes cancer!’ Kajri warned her.

‘Can- what!’

Cancer. It is an illness from which people die.  Anyone can die! Even small children! 201 Madam’s mother-in-law died last year from it!’

Kajri has become a doctor now, after working at two doctors’ houses!’ Santo chuckled, putting back the clothes in her carry bag.

‘Really! You all have not seen that ad in the picture also!’ Kajri was surprised at their ignorance.

‘I have not seen a picture in a long time, Kajri!  God knows when my husband will come back,’ Santo said looking sad.

‘Look at her! She is sad her man is not back! Every day I wish mine does not come home. Drunk ******! Last week he stole Rs 800 from me!!’ Rajjo said, visibly disgusted.

‘You should open a bank account!  I have been telling you!’ Kajri said wisely.

‘What if he takes it from there too!’

‘He can’t! He wouldn’t know!’

‘Achcha enough for today!’ Santo got up with an urgency. ‘It is 3’ o clock!’

Rajjo and Kajri also got up. And the trio went their way.  With their usual routine. This 10 minute daily catch up session was the only therapy they could afford. They never missed it.  But effective it was!

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.

Flawed I Stand, Perfect I fall 

‘Women from good families do not abuse!’

‘We thought she is a nice girl! But look at her language!’

‘No wonder they are having so many fights’.

Ananti held her head in shame in the quasi court that happened to be her in-laws’ house. Agitated, she put forth her defense.

‘He yelled at me first.’

‘He calls me names too!’

‘It is his fault too! Tell him too!’

Guilty she was.  With proof.  A domestic fight with her husband was broadcasted live to the mother-in-law without her awareness.  A fight in which she was losing it. Screaming. Abusing. A call was made to her parents as well. Her parents had their share of disappointments:

‘You are lucky they are still putting up with you!’

‘Who would tolerate a daughter-in-law with foul language!’

‘You have caused us so much shame!

Three years into her marriage, with a full-time job and a baby, Ananti was struggling. She was told that all women work. They manage the house too.  They have better fed, better learned, better behaved children and cleaner homes. It is no big deal. Why does she have to lose her sanity for every petty issues! If the maid does not come, clean yourself! If the babysitter doesn’t come, take a leave from work! Is it worth it when it leads to a quarrel with the husband?

‘You slapped him!’

“How can you hit your husband!”

 ‘I did not slap him! He was grabbing my arm! I was trying to free myself! He was not letting me go!  When he finally did, I did raise my hand to let go. But not to slap him! I mean my hand did not touch him first!’

She heard those words herself.  She was sounding like a liar. Was she?

This is common.  People don’t like accepting their share of mistakes. You hid the truth from us to make yourself look good!’

She looked into her husband’s eyes, looking for honesty.  Only they knew the truth. Both were far from perfect.  Maybe he will stop them. Maybe he will say, ‘It is okay.  We will handle it. We both have a temper issue.  We will work on it. Don’t corner her… We will …’

But there was no we. It was only her.  Her mistakes. Her inadequacies.  Her miserable failure.

‘You are the problem!’

The words pinched through her heart, and shook every fiber of her being. Her thoughts had never been kind to her. But now, it seemed they were exceptionally cruel. She replayed the whole incident in her head.  No! she had not slapped him! At least not first. He was the one who had grabbed her arm. He was not letting her move.

‘It is my fault. But it is his fault too!’

She was sounding like a broken record now.

She reached home and wailed. She tried to text a few of her friends. Maybe someone would be available to talk. To meet. But nobody was.

She cried herself to sleep.

In the middle of the night, she woke up.  Her husband was blissfully asleep, snoring.  It was a text from her friend, Arjun.

He was looking so good in his DP! She zoomed to enlarge the picture. Oops! Accidentally she made a video call to him! She disconnected immediately. But it was too late!

Hey!

Hi..

Still awake.. How come.. 😊

Nothing.. How are you.

You were trying to call me?

No.. It went by mistake…

Really? 😊

😊

So how are things. Where is hubby?

He is sleeping…

Why are you not sleeping..

Was feeling very low..

Are.. what happened dear?  

Nothing… Things will be fine…

Means now everything is not okay? Is there some problem?

No nothing… Marriage is only a problem!

Aha!!  Kya hua.. you can tell me.. I can meet you anytime if you need someone to talk to..

Yeah will do… Thanks

Anytime :-*

Goodnight 😊

Ananti woke up the next morning. She looked at her phone. It was 12 pm!! How did she sleep for so long? There were five missed calls from her mother-in-law.

She called up immediately.

‘We can’t believe it! Our daughter-in-law is talking to men at 2 am and sending them kisses!’

It took some time for Ananti to process what she was hearing. She had chatted with Arjun last night. But how would her mother-in-law know?

‘He is just a friend!’ she said, embarrassed.

‘You are our daughter-in-law. Please be mindful of your words and actions. This kind of behavior is not acceptable! You are no teenager! You are a mature 30-year-old woman!’

Ananti’s husband was not home.  He usually took off whenever they had a fight in an attempt to ‘cool things down’. His family appreciated this ‘maturity’ of his to take time off, cool his mind and come back to the house. He never informed Ananti of his whereabout because of course, he was just taking time off from her. But if Ananti did the same thing, a call would be made to her parents instantly of how she left the house, rebelliously! Where was she! What was she up to! What about the maryada of both households that she was solely carrying on her feeble shoulders?

‘You checked my messages, AND you told mummy about it? You know Arjun. You have met him, you know there is nothing going on between us! And I did not send him a kiss for God’s sake! He sent it to me!’

She said to her husband, once he showed up at home.

‘And you sent a smiley in response to the kiss! Why didn’t you block him? Remember how you blocked me one time?’ What kind of a guy sends such messages to a married woman? I had told you.. He is after you…’

‘Even if he is, I married you! Not him! Why can’t you trust me for once! And why do you have to update your mother on everything that goes on here! Do you tell her when you smoke, drink? Why do you have to tell her everything I do!’

‘Aha! As if you don’t talk to your mother! Three times a day! All you do is bitch about my mother..!’

With that, the two went on fighting.  Ananti’s family was called to her in-laws place for a round table discussion. Everybody was ashamed of her. She was too.   She apologized and promised to ‘mend her ways’. This pattern continued for the next six months. And so did their fights.

Ananti was losing her self-confidence.  She started meeting a counsellor and working on herself. She tried to meditate and control her temper.  For once somebody was not shaming her. But telling her ways to improve on the way her thoughts affection her reactions.  With the help of the counsellor she was able to identify what was causing frustration in her. She started doing things she liked and continued to do it. After a gap of three years, she started painting again. She decided she would make time for it, no matter how occupied her schedule was.  She also started yoga over the weekends. She was getting her peace of mind back.

One fine day, Ananti managed to leave early from office. Instead of going home, she decided to go to her favourite restaurant. She sat by herself and ordered her favorite chilly chicken. She enjoyed it with a Mojito. She came back home the usual time – 7:30 pm, enjoying her me time.

Unluckily for her, Vikas had decided to go to the same restaurant to get a parcel of chilli chicken, his wife’s favourite as a surprise. The store manager told him that ‘Madam’ had visited in the afternoon. He was shocked that Ananti would not come home directly from work, to spend time with her child but rather go eat at restaurant alone.

The mother-in-law was especially hurt at this revelation.

‘My leg was aching so badly! Look! It is completely swollen. Still, I was running after Mitthu the whole day! And you are so selfish! You went to enjoy instead of coming home!’

Ananti was silent. She was taking deep breaths. And counting them in her mind. She had learned this from the meditation videos she was watching.  She then went about to instruct the maid, and then opened her laptop.  It was as if she was not bothered.

Vikas and his mother were confused. Usually, Ananti would be so defensive! She would react! She would justify herself! Her voice would get loud.  She would get anxious. She would blame Vikas. But today she looked so peaceful!

Aren’t you even sorry?’ Vikas asked.

‘I am. Sorry Vikas. Sorry Mummy. I should have come home.’

And she went about with her business.  She said sorry but it was clear from her face she was least affected by their disapproval.  But she was not rude either. There was no defiance on her face. But no regret either.  Vikas was waiting for her to say, ‘When you go for your team dinners and come late, I don’t say anything. I cannot do anything I like.. I am trapped….’. But Ananti was quiet.

Vikas’ mother was not willing to give up. ‘You should not forget your responsibilities towards your family, Ananti!’.

‘I am sorry, Mummy. I forgot today. Will remember next time’.

She had apologized so many times before.  But this was different.  Her demeanor was respectful. There was no disappointment in her eyes.  There was no scorn on her face. No shame.

She had tried to hold it all together for so long.  The wannabe good, perfect woman tag was turning her into a frustrated, irritable, angry person. Today, she wore the flawed badge with pride.

The calmness on her face haunted Vikas for days…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Cottage

The cottage had red bricks and a roof with a chimney.   There was thick mist around. The sound of silence. The peace. Chandrika had seen this cottage before.  It was the same one she had imagined in the Enid Blyton books she loved as a child.

Two teenaged children ran out of the car and rushed towards the cottage. Their parents followed them.

‘Wow! This is awesome!’

‘This is like a fairytale!’

‘It has a fireplace!!’

Mr. Shamlal, the manager of the property was excited to see what seemed like a large group. “How many people Sir?”

‘Eight adults. And five kids.’ Chandrika’s husband, Sanjeev replied.

‘Kids love our property Sir! You all related?’

Sanjeev ignored him.  He hated random questions from random strangers. Chandrika nodded politely.

‘Yes. My husband and I, our daughter. His two sisters, their husbands and kids. The rest of the family is still in the car. We will check out the first place.’

‘Lovely madam… Please come!’

‘Don’t touch anything! We have still not checked in. We are just deciding where to stay!’

Chandrika could hear her sister-in-law, Sameera yelling at the top of her voice at her kids.

Chandrika took a round of the cottage with her husband. They looked at each other and exchanged a look of disappointment.

‘There is no ramp?” Chandrika asked Mr. Shyamlal.

‘What Madam?’

‘Ramp! There are four steps to the cottage.  It is elevated. And the steps are very big!’

Mr. Shyamlal took a moment to process what she said.

‘Oh that madam! Where you will find here!! None of the cottages will have. But why you need? Any elderly people?’

Our daughter is on a wheelchair.’ Sanjeev replied.

No problem Sir. Our staff will pick up her wheelchair. Carry her inside. Just four steps Sir.’

‘No that is not the point’. Chandrika snapped. ‘My daughter is very independent. She does everything herself. She does not like to be carried around. How can you not have a ramp!’

We never needed it Madam! 99 percent people – Normal. One percent – handicapped!  So nobody ever complained.’

Handicapped. The words pierced through Chandrika’s heart. Her soul. Her entire being.

She remembered the first time she had held her daughter. She was so tiny. Her little fingers and toes. Her barely visible eyebrows. She was so perfect.  Was it possible to love something you have seen few minutes ago so much?

Sameera, there is no ramp here.’ Sanjiv yelled to his sister who was inside the cottage with her husband and kids. Sameera came running outside.

Yes Bhaiya. I noticed too. I’ll get them out. They are not willing to listen’.

‘No no Sir. No need. We have regular rooms on the other side of the property. One person with the handicapped child can stay on that side. Rest all this side’.

 “No! We are on vacation. We will stay together.” Sameera told Mr. Shyamlal sternly. She went inside to talk to her kids who were already comfortable on the bed.

‘It is so nice here! Let Chandrika Mami, Sanjiv Mama and Summi  Didi stay on the other side. We will stay here,’ replied her daughter.

‘Beta! Those rooms are very far. Other side of the property. Even their restaurant is separate. All you kids will be this side. Summi will be alone. She will feel like she is missing out.

“Sameera, I think you are being over sensitive.’ Sameera’s husband said. ‘Chandrika Bhabhi and Sanjiv Bhaiya can stay that side. Why should our kids suffer!’

‘Suffer! Not being able to stay in a 15K cottage is not suffering Sunil! They are charging so much. They should understand that this is not acceptable. They have to be well equipped with all the amenities. They are in the service industry. It is only when we start boycotting such places, they will understand how poorly prepared they are!’

Miss Sameera! Queen Victoria! She will walk out with her family! And change the landscape of Indian hotel industry.’ Sunil started clapping his hands.  The kids laughed in admiration of their father’s sarcasm.

Before Sameera could respond, there was a knock on the door.  Chandrika entered the cottage and looked around with sad eyes. Sunil looked embarrassed, afraid that she might have heard her.

Sameera’s daughter ran to her aunt.

‘Chandrika Mami!! We love this cottage! It is the best! Can we stay here. Please! Please! You and Mama and Summi Didi can stay on the other side. We will come there to play with Summi Di so that she doesn’t get bored!!

‘Aashi! Keep quiet. We are not staying here!’ Sameera gave a dirty look to her daughter. She looked at Chandrika apologetically.

‘Of course, Beta. You all can stay here.  It is really very nice. Summi would have loved it to.’ Chandrika went outside to speak to her husband. But she broke down.

‘I want Summi to be able to stay in the cottage. Not me. I want to switch places with her.’

‘It is just a cottage Chandrika. Big deal. Don’t get so upset. Please don’t cry!’  Sanjiv tried to console her.

Then let me cry for the big deal. I am crying because my daughter cannot walk. Is that good enough reason for you to let me cry? She cannot do the things other kids do without even realizing they can do it. I am crying because I did everything right for my child. I gave her all the vaccinations on time. I protected her from the rain, the heat, the cold, the mosquitoes, the strangers. You name it. I did it.  But then one day, she had an accident. And God is so cruel that he took away her legs! Even bad people get to live with their limbs. Criminals. Murderers. Rapists. But my Summi!! The kindest, sweetest child! She had to be punished.”

Sameera came outside and saw Chandrika crying.  She watched her brother look at his wife helplessly. In the past five years she had seen this sight so many times.

She stormed back inside the cottage.

‘Get up now. All of you. We are not staying here.  How many times do I have to tell you the same thing! Look outside. Chandrika Mami is crying!’

‘She always cries!’  replied her son.

‘We should not go on vacation with them again. Why does Summi Di get all the attention!  We can’t do so many things because of her.’  her daughter added.

You are not paying for this vacation. Your father and I are. When you start earning, you can live wherever you want, with whoever you want. For now, get up. We are leaving. No more arguments.’

The kids followed her reluctantly.

This vacation sucks!’

‘I hate this. Want to go back’.

‘Madam!’ Mr Shyamlal came running after.

‘Only one problem child right! Rest all normal! They will enjoy Madam.  My promise! Please stay for them.’

‘Actually, there are two problematic children.’  Sameera turned back to reply. ‘And one problematic husband.  But you don’t worry about them. You worry about your services.  It is not differently abled friendly, or elderly friendly. You will miss out on business if you are not mindful of their needs.  Good luck.’

And the families drove away. The red cottage still stood there.  Unoccupied. Untouched. Like a fairytale.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Every change begins with a small step, whether it’s a change within your family, or the whole country! India’s hero, Padman, had its digital premiere on ZEE5, on 11th May. Don’t miss this inspiring true-life story, only on ZEE5. Download the app and subscribe now. For every subscription, ZEE5 will donate Rs. 5 towards the personal hygiene needs of underprivileged women.

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The Arranged Love Marriage

“Madam, I have draped the sari like mermaid! It is giving you very young and slim look!” The beautician bent down to fix Bittu Kumari’s sari pleats, pleased with her work.

“I am young! I am 26!” Bittu Kumari frowned.

“Oh! I thought you must be in 30’s! Was wondering why you are still bachelor!”

“I am not! A bachelor is a man who is not…”

“Bittu, you are still not ready! The boy’s family has arrived!” Bittu Kumari’s mother stormed into the room. She looked at her daughter from head to toe. “Shabnam, I had asked you to make her look thin!” she said disappointed.

“Aunty Ji, I have given her slim look only! This is mermaid style sari! My world-famous style in Saharanpur! She is little healthy no, what can I do!”

“Leave it! No time now!”

Bittu Kumari was dragged to the living room.  A lean, dark, young man, his mother, father and possibly his brother who looked like a rounder replica of him were seated on the three-seater sofa.  Opposite to them, were Bittu Kumari’s father – Mr. Mishra, and his teenaged son, Sonuraj. Mrs. Mishra’s sister and husband had also been invited for moral support. Bittu Kumari sat next to her brother.

“Mr. Pandey, this is my daughter, Bittu Kumari! She has completed M.A. in English literature.  She teaches English in St. Mary’s high school! Convent! And herself educated in English medium convent! Throughout topper!” added the proud father.

“That is great!” said Mr. Pandey with an approving nod. “Lallan also wanted to do B.Com. But after Matric he joined my business. He completed PUC through correspondence.”

Sonuraj giggled. Bittu Kumari was horrified. She looked up to confirm if she had heard correctly. Her eyes met Lallan’s. Lallan smiled at her, beaming.

“All that is okay! Doesn’t matter!” Mrs. Pandey seemed to have read Bittu Kumari’s thoughts. “For a boy, what matters is how well he is earning. Our business is flourishing. Lallan is handling it single-handedly now! And what matters for a girl is how she looks!” She paused, giving a sharp stare at Bittu Kumari’s bulging stomach which Shabnam’s Rs 1500 mermaid style draping could not hide. “My elder daughter-in-law Chhaya is so pretty! Even after having two daughters, she has maintained herself like a stick!”

Bittu Kumari raised her head again to look at Lallan’s brother’s paunch, trying to imagine him with his stick-like wife.

What does Chaaya do?” asked Mr. Mishra, visibly annoyed.

She is a housewife!” Mr. Pandey stepped in. “We wanted a working girl for Lallan. Actually, we wanted a housewife. But Lallan wanted a working girl.”

Lallan blushed.

“Working, not working is not main criteria! We want a fair, slim, beautiful girl.” Mrs. Pandey clarified. “Your daughter is very healthy. At this age, she is healthy! After a child, she will bloat even more!”

Mrs. Mishra shifted in her chair uncomfortably. Her fear came true. This was the fifth time the boy’ side had rejected her daughter for being “healthy”.  This time, Bittu Kumari did not look up. The words seemed to have pierced through her heart and created a hole. How is it possible that for all these years, she had heard it all – healthy, fat, moti, bhais, elephant, yet it hurt her each time? Shouldn’t she be immuned by now?

“Mrs. Pandey, I think you should let Lallan and Bittu Kumari talk once. They are the ones who have to get married! Let them decide.”

“We would have let them talk, Mr. Mishra. We are very modern. That is why we got Lallan. He was keen on your daughter’s profile. But… sorry to say your daughter looks nothing like her pictures. You must have edited them and sent to us. She seems 20 kg more than we had expected!”

Mr. Mishra looked at his wife accusingly. She had gone to the biggest studio in town to get her daughter’s pictures photoshopped. What was she supposed to do?  Those who saw Bittu Kumari’s real pictures rejected her even before meeting her. She had to give her daughter a fair chance!

“If she was slightly healthy also, we would have tried to adjust. But she is obese! Young girls exercise! She is probably lazy too! Or maybe she has some illness. And moreover, daughter-in-law’s beauty determines the looks of the children also. If we get an obese daughter-in-law, she will give birth to obese daughters, and then we will have to worry about their marriage also!”

“Ek minute Aunty, you have gone too far!” Bittu Kumari finally spoke up.  “Who said I wanted to marry your son!”

“What! Then why did you all call us!” Mrs. Pandey frowned.

“We were deceived too! We thought your son had completed B-Com. But now we know he never went to college. I did not know I was signing up for a college dropout! Just like you did not know you were signing up for a fat daughter-in-law. But you know what Aunty, fat women make completely decent homemakers. Look at you!”

“Such a shameless girl! Doesn’t know how to talk to elders! And I am fat now! When I was your age, I looked just like Hema Malini! Come Lallan, let us go.” Mrs. Pandey got up, grabbing her son’s hand. Her elder son and husband also got up almost in a reflex. “We don’t need a fat and proudy girl.”

“It is proud Aunty, not proudy!”

Lallan looked at Bittu Kumari. He paused. He wanted to say something. But his mother pulled him away.

And just like that, the entire Pandey family was gone. Mr. Mishra put his hand on her daughter’s head and smiled. “Bittu beta, we don’t need them! You are a diamond. These people don’t know your worth.” Mrs. Mishra went back to the bedroom to pay Shabnam who was locked up in the bedroom, waiting for the boy’s side to leave. Mrs. Mishra’s sister and brother-in-law left rather unceremoniously. Everything went back to normal.

Two days later, Bittu Kumari received a text message.

‘Hi Bittu Ji. I am sorry for finding your number. Got it from the school.  I am sorry for the way my mother talked to you. I know how you must have felt. Four girls have rejected me because I am dark! One was educated and English-speaking, and did not want someone like me. I know my profile says that I have done B.com. If talks would have progressed, I would have told you the truth. My brother had edited my profile so that people at least express interest. I may not be that educated, but I do manage to run my business well. I may not be good-looking, but if you give me a chance I will take care of you. I know what it is like when people judge you without getting to know you. I really liked you. Would like to be friends with you, if it is okay with you.”

Bittu Kumari was shocked. No man had ever showed such interest in her. Without telling their parents, Bittu Kumari and Lallan started chatting. Bittu Kumari realized that Lallan was no different from her. He was also looking for a decent partner, while struggling with his own insecurities, and cruel judgment of random people. He was running a growing business, with hard-work and sincerity. He was not as stupid as she had expected. Rather, he was quite intuitive and witty. He was also very sensitive and mature. She grew quite fond of him.

Bittu Rani and Lallan have decided to get married. Mr. Mishra is insisting that Lallan completes B.Com from distant learning. Mrs. Pandey has agreed provided Bittu Kumari loses 10 kgs. Mr. Pandey is happy for the children. Sonuraj is preparing a solo dance performance for the wedding.

Mrs. Mishra is grateful. To Shabnam. And to the photographer.

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Because It Was Real

Inspector Annirudh addressed the media exactly 120 days after the murder of D.M. Amarkanth.

“Sir, Mr. Amarkanth’s family has demanded a CBI probe. They are not satisfied with the investigation,” asked a reporter shoving a microphone into Annirudh’s face.

“Bangalore police has already solved the case. We have nabbed the murderer! What is the CBI going to do!” Annirudh replied. Not a sign of doubt on his face or his voice.

“But Sir, Amarkanth’s family is alleging that the picture was planted! He was never in a relationship with Kavya Roy!” The reporter asked again, refusing to give up.

That is the problem with this country! You cannot accept it when the police is doing their job. Kavya Roy was having an affair with Amarkanth. Kavya’s husband, Naveen found out and shot Amarkanth. The case is solved. There is nothing left for you to complain about. It is an open and shut case!”

Aniruddh ignored the sea of reporters, and multiple flashes of camera aiming at his face.

There was a sea of reporters at another house as well.  The residence of retired Lieutenant General Naveen Roy. Not many outside the fraternity were aware that Naveen Roy had not sought a voluntary retirement from the army. He had been dismissed following a brawl which had resulted in a fellow Officer’s broken jaw. This incident had come to light thanks to media’s extensive research on Naveen Roy, once he became the prime accused in the murder case of D.M. Amarkanth. The victim of the brawl had testified against Mr. Roy, and swore about his rage issues. Among the other witnesses was a doctor who had once treated Mrs. Roy. His five-minute interview had been viral on the internet for some time.

“I had met Mrs. Kavya Roy in October 2013. The skin of her nose was punctured. A blood clot had formed in the septum. It had created a perforation in the septum.  She was in a lot of pain. I had suggested that she report this to the police as it was a case of domestic violence. But she had refused.”

“And how do you know it was her husband who had hurt her? Did she say it was him?”

“I have been practicing for the past 25 years. I can tell what the patients try to hide. 90 percent of the women who come to me with injuries have been assaulted by a husband or boyfriend. This is the global statistic as well.”

“And why had you not reported it to the police? Was it not your responsibility?”

“My job is to heal the wound which is what I did. She was nervous and scared. I referred her to a female counsellor from my hospital.  I thought she would be more comfortable talking to a woman.”

“Did she visit her?”

“I am not aware.”

“What was the name of that counsellor?”

“Anjana Awasthi.”

Anjana Awasthi was a 55-year-old therapist with a master’s degree in psychology. Anjana’s life was quite mundane. She had spent the first 20 years of her married life raising her two sons. When the younger one left for college, she felt a void so strong that she was convinced she would not be able to survive the loneliness. One of her friends suggested that it was time she utilized her educational degrees. Even though she had not worked before, her empathetic face, her kind smile and grey hair gave her incredible credibility. It compensated for her lack of experience. Her patients connected with her instantly. They confided in her their deepest, darkest secrets.

One morning, Anjana had an appointment with a beautiful woman by the name, Kavya Roy. Kavya was not like other patients. When other patients came to Anjana, they came with a problem. They expected solutions. But Kavya was very resilient. She had accepted her fate. She never cried. She never made any plans. She did not discuss the future.  She did not ask for advice.  She just wanted somebody to talk to. She was a lonely woman who paid Rs 2,000 an hour to speak to someone.  

When Inspector Annirudh approached Anjana for an interview, her husband was reluctant. He said she did not need to get involved in a murder case. But Anjana had never seen any drama in her life. How could she resist this one opportunity?

Anjana was also upset because she did not like the way the media was building a negative image of Kavya. She wanted to put an end to all speculations.

“Was Kavya Roy mentally ii?”

“No!”

“Then why was she consulting you, Ms. Awasthi?”

“Not all people who come to me are necessarily mentally unstable. But I help them see their problems in a way in which they can work them out themselves.”

“So, what were her problems?”

“I am not allowed to share confidential information about my clients. It would be breach of trust!”

“This is a murder case madam! Not cooperating could result in severe consequences for you. We would need access to her file.”

“What is it that you need to know? She had nothing to do with the murder!”

“How do you know that?”

“Because she loved that man! More than her life. She could never hurt him! Her husband found out about the affair, and killed Amarkanth in a moment of rage.”

“How can you be so sure? She did not mind committing adultery! Maybe things got inconvenient. So, she and her husband plotted the murder together.”

“You cannot blame her for the affair. Naveen was awful to her! He hit her. He forced himself on her! He was toxic. She was so unhappy. She had nowhere to go to. Her parents were no more. She was scared to leave Naveen. Amarkanth was the first man in her life who treated her well. He loved her.”

“If he loved her, why did he send a picture of theirs to her husband? Was he trying to blackmail her for money? Doesn’t make sense because he was a rich guy! Or was she trying to end the relationship, so he sent the picture for revenge?”

“I do not know why he did that. Kavya had stopped seeing me three months before the murder. I don’t know what transpired between them during that time.”

“Do you remember the last visit of hers?”

“Yes. She had said she would talk to Amarkanth about getting married.”

“And what did he say?”

“Like I said, I have no idea. That was her last appointment.”

“Do you maintain notes of the sessions?”

“I have the recordings.”

Inspector Annirudh was due for a promotion this year. When he was assigned the case of the murder of D.M. Amarkanth, he knew it would be huge. Amarkanth was a well-known, high profile real-estate developer. His murder had created a public outrage. Initially, Annirudh had thought this must be about a business deal gone wrong. It was only when the IT team cracked Amarkanth’s laptop, and email passwords did he come across the email. The email was sent from Amarkanth to Naveen with a picture of Amarkanth and Kavya together. Naveen saw the picture, got infuriated, took his gun, went to Amarkanth’s house and shot him. A no-leads case had turned into an open and shut case overnight. He would definitely get the promotion for solving this one.

These women, he thought!  They have always caused wars! Look at the Mahabharata for instance! Annirudh had decided he would never get married. Although the case was almost closed, Annirudh decided to listen to one of the recordings of Kavya’ s sessions with Ms. Awasthi, just to understand what was going on in that twisted, cheating woman’s head.

I had got married to Naveen when I was 22. I did not know any life beyond him.  I had accepted my life. Not everybody is destined to be happy. I would tell myself.

Until I met Amar. He was a dream come true. He was nice. He was kind. He was gentle, and sensitive. I was a different person when I was with him. I was happy! I could not thank the stars enough for having met him! How did I get so lucky? He was the best thing to happen to me. My life was an unanswered question so far. No direction. No purpose. Now I know why everything ever happened to me. It all made sense. It was all a plan to make me meet him. It was all worth it. All the pain that I suffered. He made it all right.  I never knew my wounds were worth fixing. But he fixed them!”

Annirudh stopped the tape right there. He could not take it anymore. What non-sense! What a  confused, helpless woman! Why couldn’t she just get a job, and leave her husband! Why did she need another man to fix her! She had ruined the lives of two men! One is dead. One in in jail!

Annirudh had later arrested Naveen for questioning. After a third-degree torture, Naveen had confessed to the crime. The gun was also recovered as evidence. Motive, evidence and a confession! This was a stellar performance by Annirudh! Naveen was sentenced, although his lawyers had appealed the case. The trial would take years.  Annirudh was promoted. He had earned it! It all worked out fine.  Justice was neither denied, nor delayed. For everyone.

One year later:

Kavya’s journal

There is peace in the house.  It is nice not having Naveen around. Sometimes I wonder have my ears stopped functioning altogether? Or is there actually so much of silence? Life without Naveen’s yelling and abuses has probably made me deaf.

It is strange that I miss Naveen.  I miss Amar too.

I remember the day we had taken that picture. I was in Amar’s bed. In his arms. I was giggling. Smiling. Laughing. Smile please, I had said.

“Why are you taking a picture like this! Your husband will find out and kill both of us!”

“It is just a shot of our faces! Not a revealing picture!”

“The look on our face gives it all away, baby!”

And then he had kissed me.

That was a beautiful day. And then came another day. When I asked Amar when he would be marrying me. Somewhere in my heart I knew he was not ready for my marriage. Divorce would have taken time too. But I had never thought he will say this:

“What! What are you saying! I never promised to marry you!”

I cried. I begged. “Why were you with me if you did not want to be with me?”

“You are a consenting adult, Kavya! Don’t act like you are a child and I fooled you into anything!”

“I love you. Please. Don’t do this!”

“Come on. You don’t do this Kavya !  Don’t tell me you got so attached to me in three months! Now I am scared! Let us not see each other anymore!”

I had never deleted that picture. I knew it was a risk. What if Naveen found out? But the times that Amar was not with me, I could look at that picture. It made me feel good. It was all I had left of him. Especially that day when Amar denied our relationship. He invalidated me. He could have said that he did not want to marry me. Or that he is done with me! But he did not! He refused to acknowledge my feelings. He made me feel like a crazy woman. A crazy woman who was crazy about a man who did not want anything to do with her. He ruined everything.

 Amar was what made me real. Without him I was hollow. He was not imaginary! The world had to know that I existed. Our love existed.

I knew Amar’s email password. I did. Because I was his girlfriend. I was the love of his life. And now everyone would know.

From: Amarkanth.dm@gmail.com

To: Naveenroy@gmail.com

Sent.

I think there are two types of men in this world. One like Naveen. Chauvinistic, abusive, aggressive. The other like Amar. Caring, kind, gentle. Soft. Soft and weak.

Who is worse?

Sorry Amar. But I could not let our love die like it never existed. Sorry Naveen. But I wanted you to know I was capable of being loved.

And now Amar is gone! Naveen is also gone. The two men in my life… One scarred my body. One scarred my soul.

I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So, all I can tell you is why he was murdered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistake Or Crime?

This story is set in the year 2009.

***

“So, you willingly emailed your private picture to Vicky? The pot-bellied Officer asked Ria with a smirk. Mr. and Mehta bowed their head down in shame.

“Umm…I had just sent it to Vicky on yahoo messenger…. He sent it to Rishi. Rishi sent it to Ashir…. No not Ashir, Yash”. Ria paused and looked at the ceiling. She closed her eyes and recollected, “Yash mailed it to a group of boys from our school including Ashir. One of the guys from that group created a fake profile on Orkut and uploaded it! Someone saw it another site also.” Ria struggled to look at the Officer in the eye. “That is what Vicky said. He thinks it is Ashir.”

“It is a chain accident! Abhi highway pe hua tha na,” The officer looked at his colleague and laughed. “Ab woh sab chod kar madam ka photo dhoondo! These teenagers have all the fun. Then blame the police! Kaam hamara badhta hai!”

“Sir please do something.” Mrs. Mehta pleaded, her voice coarse from crying.

“Madam, here. Please go to the cyber cell with a copy of this FIR.”

The ride home was dreadful. Nobody spoke. As the Mehtas reached home, Ria’s Dadi was waiting for them.

“Tea is ready! I will get some biscuits for Riya. My poor baby must be hungry! I have made…”

“She is not a poor baby Mummy!” Mr. Mehta interrupted.  She is a stupid, shameless girl. She has made a joke of our reputation. Now her whole life is ruined!”

“What are you saying! Don’t talk like that,” Dadi growled. “She is 17! She has a long life ahead! One thing will not ruin it!”

“It will Mummy!” Mrs. Mehta broke down. “All her classmates have seen it. It is on the internet! We gave her the best childhood. Best toys. Best vacations. Best school! And this is how she repaid us! Everyone is laughing at us! Who will marry this girl with no morals and no sense! I can’t believe she is MY child!”

Ria stormed out of the room in tears and locked herself. Dadi looked at Mrs. Mehta.

“How can you be so harsh, Janice! It is a difficult time for her. She needs support! What if she does something to herself?

“Mummy, you know I have always supported her.  Remember, when she was selected for that competition in Singapore, she was only 13! All parents were worried about sending their children abroad. But I was not! I always trusted her. She was so sensible! But today, I have failed as a mother! What kind of a girl sends such a picture! A class topper can be so something like this?

“Janice, you and I would not know. In our times, we did not have computers and mobile-phones! These kids have access to everything. They make poor judgment in peer pressure. If we had all those things in our times, who knows we would have done something stupid too!”

“I can’t believe it Mummy. You are supporting her!”

“I supported you too! You and my son eloped to get married! Papa had initially objected to your marriage. If Jaymin had given me time, I would have convinced him.  But you guys ran away before that! People had laughed at me too. They had said you stole my son from me. But I accepted you with open arms. You both were important to me. Not random people who have nothing better to do than talk!”

“That was different, Mummy! How can you compare!”

“It is the same Beta. I supported my children then. I am supporting them now. You have to do the same. She is your child. She has not hurt or harmed anyone. She trusted someone. She made a mistake, not a crime. Now go, solve this problem.”

“I don’t have any strength Mummy. I am broken. I can’t believe this is happening to my child. I am tired!” Janice put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes.

“This is not about you. This is about justice! Think about Ria. And other girls who become victims of such crimes. They are victims of their own judgment to some extent. Don’t you think that boy should get traced? His parents should not feel ashamed that they did not teach the right values to their son? Is it only your daughter who did something wrong?

“We may not even be able to trace it! God knows where you all he has put it! Internet is a very vast place Mummy. It is like… like so many websites..I don’t know how to explain to you!”

“Then all the more reasons to fight. We should have better laws to protect our girls from technology! Stop crying. And I do know about internet! Mrs. Shukla’s daughter, Anuradha is a lawyer. Talk to her. She will suggest something. They will take the computers of all the children and hack into their accounts. They can locate the IT address. They do these things. They will know! They can even create fake account and try to frame the boy!”

“It is not IT address! It is IP address. And how do you know so much Mummy!!”

“I watch Crime Patrol! Now go! Get to work. Time to be a parent. Protect your child. And make sure you fight so hard that those kids never do this to anyone ever again!”

The Mehtas got in touch with Anuradha. Anuradha worked hard on the case. It took time, but the cyber cell managed to remove the pictures. The uploader was traced. It was a 15-year-old boy from Ria’s school. His parents apologized to the Mehtas, and begged them to not take the case further.

Since he was a minor, the Mehtas decided that they should forgive him and move on. Moving on was important for their peace, and Ria’s peace also.

What was important was to teach the right values. All the kids involved were in an impressionable age. The school took the responsibility of counselling them about cyber vulnerability and creating awareness. They held workshops for both girls and boys on how one moment of thrill for them could have grave consequences. Was it worth the risk?

Ria’s case was a starting point for Anuradha. She was herself a mother of two daughters. She felt that the laws need to be reformed to keep up with the technological threats. She continued to specialize in cyber law cases. There were still so many loopholes in the laws. When the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 was passed to consider voyeurism as an offence, she felt a certain sense of achievement.

Ria is doing well now. With the support of her mother, Dadi and professional counseling, she was able to put the trauma past her and focus on her future. She graduated from a well-known law school.

On her graduation day, she was awarded valedictorian of the class.

She started her acceptance speech with a quote by Benjamin Franklin:

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Extraordinary Strength of Ordinary Women

This story has been written for the Warrior Women Blogathon, for which it was selected as one of the winning entries. 

Daksha boarded the train sharp at 11 am. The journey from Valsad to Mumbai may have been only five hours. But for Daksha it was not merely a journey. It was years of rebellion finally paying off.

Since Daksha had turned 16, people had urged her to join her father’s tailoring shop. Something she detested!  Her dream was to write stories. And share them with the world. After completing a post graduate degree in mass communication, she had started applying for jobs in Mumbai. She attended a workshop organized by a start-up publication called ‘Athena – The Inspirational Women’ the last time she had visited Mumbai. They had told her that they needed passionate people like her. But her English was not up to mark. However, she managed to secure a onetime paid assignment to pitch a story about an inspiring woman.

People had said all sort of things:

You have never left Valsad! How will you manage to live in such a big city?

The city always floods!

How can you become a content writer when your English is not that great!

Who gets paid to write stories anyway!

But Daksha was not afraid. She had the hunger to prove herself. If only she could find a famous woman to interview…

“Myself – Daksha Shah.” She said to a middle-aged lady, the only other woman in the compartment after adjusting her luggage under the berth. “Last time I went to Mumbai, all gents only! This time good company!”

The lady shook her hand, and smiled politely.  Daksha had read enough books on how to become a strong, successful woman. All the books talked about networking. Daksha took networking very seriously. Even if she was in a train with strangers.

 “Aunty, I am going for job! If I get, my office would be at Nariman Point. I have found a PG in Dadar. Dadar to Churchgate I can take local train!”

Aunty nodded.

“I am first girl in my family to go to Mumbai! All girls, either get married or join parents’ business. But I wanted to be independent!”

Aunty smiled as Daksha continued.

Daksha was trying to put a brave face.  But deep down she was scared and unsure of herself. She had borrowed money from her parents to sustain herself without a job.  She had fought with everyone. What if people made fun of her accent like those mean girls from the workshop?  The ones who had no idea in which century Rani Lakshmibai lived, yet they thought it was their birth right to ridicule her English? She had nobody to share her doubts with. How could she when they all believed she was making the biggest mistake of her life? She wanted someone to tell her she would be okay. She did not want to hear that she would fail.

Daksha switched on her laptop. She typed the title of her story.

‘Top 10 Sucessful Women of 2016’, she entered the title in a new Microsoft word document. The auto check corrected the spelling to successful.

Aunty was now sleeping, leaning on the window. She momentarily opened her eyes. Daksha could not resist.

“Aunty, I am feeling little bit scared. First time leaving home.  My English also not that good because I studied in Gujarati medium. But Aunty I am hard working. I know if I get good opportunity, I can do anything in life! But if I fail, people here will laugh at me. I want to be a successful, famous woman like Kiran Bedi!”

“Kiran Bedi did not dream of being famous dear! She worked hard and earned a name for herself.    Don’t dream of being famous. Figure out what makes you happy. Then just do it. If you are interested in your work, you will do well. You already have a goal. Go for it! Success will come over time! There is no such thing as failure. It is sad to see young people give up. Life is so big!”

“Yes, Aunty! But I always have this craze to meet some great lady like Neerja Bhanot or Kalpana Chawla. She was greatest woman of India!  Why she died so young!”

Yes Beta, if only someone could answer that question. Why do people die before their time? People say everything happens for good. But what good justifies death of children before the eyes of their parents? Good, kind children. Who just wanted to do well in life. And they would have. Had they been…”

Aunty paused. This was the longest that she had spoken. Daksha did not know what to say next. She looked back at her article.  She already had a list of women she wanted to interview – successful women from the field of finance, journalism, fashion technology etc.

“Aunty you know any strong, famous women? I want to interview!”

“I know a lot of strong women. But they may not be famous!”

“Oh like who? I mean if not CFO of company, even VP will do.”

“I am afraid I don’t know any such women! But I do know a lot of strong women!”

“But what they have done! Good enough to write story on them?”

“Maybe not an interesting story you are looking for. But everybody has a story to tell. People become strong when they face some circumstances in life they were not prepared for. Everybody has struggles. The way we deal with it matters.”

 “Aunty you have met any movie star? In Mumbai, it must be common!”

“No!” Aunty replied with a laugh.  Daksha was disappointed.

The rest of the journey Daksha continued to write.  Mumbai station was about to reach.

People were removing their luggage and crowding around the exits. Daksha also pulled out her suit case.

“It was nice meeting you Beta.  Wish you the very best in life! Thank you for your company!”  

“Mention not Aunty! Daksha beamed, holding her luggage ready to move out.

“This is my card. Let me know if you ever need anything.”

Daksha did not have time to see the card now. She tucked it in her purse as she made her way out of the rush.

Few days later, Daksha got settled in her PG. She went to office of Athena to pitch a story line for a female Air Marshal she had met through her roommate who agreed to be interviewed.

Daksha was narrating the story line to the editor, when she opened her purse to remove a pen.  A visiting card dropped out. It read, ‘Mothers against suicide’.

Below was the contact number of Arundhati Biswas along with a helpline number.

“Are you interviewing her too?” The editor asked with excitement.

“Who!”

“Arundhati Biswas!”

It took Daksha some time to correlate that this card belonged to the Aunty she had met in the train.

“Is she famous? I have met her!” Daksha asked, the excitement now reflecting in her voice too.

“Well, not famous enough that everyone would know her.  But famous enough to be known in circles like ours.  She started a suicide helpline number after her 15-year-old committed suicide due to failing an exam. Initially, it was low key. Spread through word of mouth. But now she has a website that has grown. Lots of other bereaved mothers have joined. In extreme cases, she refers people to professional counsellors, therapists and psychiatrists. She conducts sessions for free in schools and colleges on bullying, dealing with heartbreak, grief counselling etc.  Pretty inspiring lady!”

Daksha was dumbfounded. She wished she had known this while she was travelling with Aunty. She got in touch with Arundhati for an interview without wasting any further time.

Arundhati told her about her ordeal.  How she lost her child because of a moment of weakness. How every day in the past ten years has been a struggle.  How she wishes she could go back in time. The first thought she has every morning is to go join her daughter, wherever she is. Yet, she manages to live every day, somehow in the hope that she could help someone else not go through the same pain.

Daksha ended the story with a quote referred to by Arundhati:

“Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy–all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.” – Cassandra ClareClockwork Angel

The editor had a hard time with Daksha’s mediocre writing. But she could not help being impressed with the content. The story was published. It became viral. Daksha attended an English course, as well as spoken English classes recommended by her editor over the next eight months following which she applied for a written exam with Athena. Within a year, she was hired as a full-time content writer.

Daksha now writes her own column in which she curates stories of women who have made a difference to somebody else’s life. She does not look for famous people anymore. Ordinary women may have extraordinary strength.  Her muses are now women she meets in the local train, who may be cutting vegetables oblivious to the fact that they may be heroes in their own way.

One of the stories she published was about herself. Her journey from a small town, to her struggle with the English language, and finally living the dream of being a columnist.

Arundhati was right. Every woman is strong. She has a story to tell.

She just needs the right person to listen.

Author’s Note:

This story has been written for the Warrior Women Blogathon. Women’s Web & Juggernaut Books invite you to join us on an exciting blogathon, inspired by the warrior women of history.

When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve-year-old girl, Aremis. Check out this new historical novel Empire (http://bit.ly/DeviEmpire) with a warrior woman, Aremis at the heart of the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Day Of Her Life

Jyotsna woke up, determined to go back to sleep. It must be 6 am, she thought. She looked at her watch. It was 8! She jumped out of bed. Why didn’t her alarm ring? Was it the am / pm mess again? Never mind! Who has the time to figure out now!

She layered a generous amount of toothpaste on her toothbrush, and stuffed it into her mouth as she entered the kitchen. Tea on one burner, bread on the other. Another burner was turned on, as she took out the dough from the refrigerator.

The door-bell rang. Rupa, her house-maid entered. Jyotsna did not have the energy to argue with her for coming late. She was just grateful that she came.

“There is some bhindi in the fridge. Can you please pack it in Bhaiya’s

tiffin.” Jyotsna said.

“Didi, there is not enough bhindi for two people. What will you carry today?”

“It’s okay. Just make sure you pack for him. I will eat something at work.”

By the time Jyotsna got dressed, Anand was back from yoga. She grabbed a slice of bread, and rushed to catch her office cab.

Jyotsna sat next to her friend, Nidhi in the cab who was her only solace in the one-and-a-half-hour commute. But today, Nidhi did not remove her head-phones, and ignored Jyotsna. She pestered her to talk. Nidhi burst into tears.

“Kunal dumped me!”

“Oh I am so sorry dear! What happened?”

“He said he got engaged to a girl, his mother found for him. When I accused him, he said he cannot possibly marry a woman who is on Tinder!”

“That’s ridiculous! He himself is on Tinder!”

“I know right!! Bloody hypocrite! He said we could continue seeing each other. But I told him to get lost. So, I dumped him, technically, right?”

“Oh yes of course! Good for you! We deserve better! I mean you deserve better!”

Just before lunch break, Jyotsna received a call from her mother-in-law. She was getting late, but she knew this was a call she had to pick. She still remembers the ruckus from the last time she had missed her call.

“Namastey Mummy!” she tried to sound cheerful. There was silence.

“Hello?”

“Jyotsna! I can’t believe you gave yesterday’s bhindi to my son for lunch! And bread for breakfast!! Why are you so lazy?”

“Mummy, I had got up late today. And Rupa was also late. He had really liked the bhindi last night. There was little left so just for today, I gave him that. And he loves bread! Especially when I put cheese spread on it!

“What option does he have, poor boy! Keep neglecting your husband! I never say anything. I am such a kind, understanding woman. You are lucky to have me as a mother-in-law. And a husband like Anand. When I got married, I used to get up at 5 and make sure…..”

Jyotsna was tempted to disconnect the phone. Her mother-in-law went on for half an hour. By the time she reached the cafeteria, it was fully crowded. She looked at the queue. Then at her watch. She had a call in 10 minutes. She had no option but to skip lunch.

Jyotsna and her boss dialed in for the call. They waited patiently for five minutes. After 10 minutes, somebody joined.

“Hi. This is Rahul from Leela’s team. Leela would not be able to take the call today. Her baby is sick so had to rush home. But I have prepared the report, and if we turn to page 10…”

“You see this!” Jyotsna’s boss muted the call, visibly infuriated.

“I hired Leela last year! She never bothered to tell me she was expecting at the time of interview! Enjoyed her paid maternity leave, and now she will come to work as and when she feels like! Lucky women!!”

“Her child is sick! I am sure she will log in from home in some time…”

“Just a minute, my wife is calling.”

Jyotsna was interrupted as the boss stepped out. But she could still hear him.

No I obviously cannot buy a present for a five-year-old kid on my way back! Just let him attend the birthday party without a gift! Big deal! He can gift later. Don’t disturb me at work for this non-sense! I have better things to do!”

He came back to the room, intuitive that Jyotsna had heard him.

“Sorry. My wife was insisting I buy a gift for a birthday party my son got invited to last minute. She is saying she cannot step out because she is busy! I was like busy with what? You are just a housewife! Anyway, let’s get back to the call…”

After a long day, Jyotsna reached home. Hungry, tired and irritated. As she went to cook dinner, she received a call from Rupa.

“Didi, I can’t come tomorrow!”

“What!! Why? This is your second holiday this week!”

“Sorry Didi. My husband and I had a huge fight. The Didi from 103 had given me her old jeans and kurti. When he saw me in jeans, he got mad and slapped me! He said no need to go to work and seduce men!

“So what! Now you will never work? He doesn’t earn anything anyway!”

“No no Didi. Tomorrow is end of month. He will ask money for alcohol. That time, I will say, I have no money left. His drama will not last. I am not educated like you na Didi, what to do?”

Jyotsna wanted to scream, but refrained. Could the day get any worse?

Jyotsna began having dinner after serving Anand.

“Mummy called me today.” Jyotsna decided to play with fire. “Apparently, you discussed the menu with her, which upset her!”

“Don’t be so over sensitive. She casually asked what I was eating, so I mentioned. Anyway, check this out. She sent me pictures of Rhea on WhatsApp. Just look at her!”

Rhea was Anand’s cousin’s wife. She had delivered a baby boy eight months back.

“Look how slim she is looking! She did aerobics and gym. Lost all that weight so soon!”

Jyotsna knew where the conversation was going.

“I mean just look at her! So pretty and slim! Who would guess she is 35! Some girls take such good care of themselves. They look so young and beautiful. You know Mummy was saying that maybe you should try to reduce too. I mean you are only 29. We don’t even have a child yet. You will only put on more from here on!”

“Excuse me!!”

“I knew you would get offended. It is so difficult to talk to you! What did I say wrong? You know men like their wives to be attractive.”

Jyotsna threw the bowl in her hand. Anand ducked, almost in reflex. He then realized it was just a fragile, steel bowl incapable of causing any damage. Embarrassed, he yelled.

“What the hell?”

Jyotsna stood up. Her big, kohled eyes were red, matching with her the red bindi. She looked very intimidating.

“Shut up!! Just shut up! What the hell, you want to know? Yes, I know I am fat. I would have loved to work out. But I don’t. I prepare your break-fast, tea, lunch and supervise the maid while you go for your yoga. In the evening, again I can’t go to gym because I have to cook dinner for you. I have not even had my lunch today. Did you even bother to check if I did?

You are a 33-year-old man-child who cannot even manage to take care of himself and complains to his mother about what he is being fed!
You know why Rhea is so pretty, because happy girls looks prettier. And you know why she is happy? Her husband is not a jerk like you! She has got a full-time baby sitter, and a cook. So, she can afford to spend time on herself. I can’t!

Not being smart, sexy, modern, is a problem. But we should not be too much of it either! We should be the right amount! Right enough to satisfy your ego, but careful enough not to hurt it!

You can be on Tinder! But we can’t! Wearing jeans is a problem! Leaving office early to tend to a sick child is a problem! Not embarrassing your child for attending a birthday party without a gift is a problem! You know who is the problem! You!!! Live a damn day in my life! Do the chores that I do. Manage house work with office! Listen to the taunts of an interfering and controlling mother-in-law! Come home to an unattractive husband! Yes, the feeling is mutual! If you get judged the way we do, you would not be able to survive!”

Jyotsna stormed out of the room. Anand had never seen her so angry. What is wrong with women? He thought. How did she find out he was on Tinder? When has he forbidden her to wear jeans? And what was that whole thing about presents, and sick children? They did not have any! It is probably that time of the month for her when she gets all crazy.

He would surely call Mummy tomorrow and ask her to counsel Jyotsna on PMS.

Note:

This story was written for an online contest where the cue was from the movie ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. I am aware that not all men are the way described in this story. This story has been written with the cue in mind, as a tribute to those who have made some of the Indian goddesses very angry.