RaaGaM GloBaL ChaT FoRuM

RaaGaM GloBaL ChaT FoRuM

Never Blame any Day In Your Life. Good Days Give You Happiness. Bad Days Give You Experience. Both Are Essential In Life. All Are God's Blessings.
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PostSubject: SHE    Sat Mar 30, 2013 2:49 pm

SHE - 1

Rishi was having his morning shave in the bathroom attached to their bedroom. He let the tap running while he was busy with the razor – an act that had so far never failed to infuriate his wife of five years, Shalini.

“That's a sheer waste of water, Rishi. You know in Somalia an individual has to survive on 100 ml of water for a whole day. And you are wasting ten times that quantity for removing some tiny hairs from your face. Isn’t that atrocious?.”

Rishi would just grin back at her which would only serve to fuel her anger. He somehow got turned on when his actions or words irritated Shalini. Now, he was a trifle sad that his wasting water was not being noticed by her. She was still asleep.

“Since Shal is not there to see, this is a real waste.” He shut the tap and focussed on his shaving.

He was startled by the sound of a crowing cock right inside their bed room. The sudden jerk in his body made him nick his chin with the powerful triple-blade shaving razor. Seeing blood while shaving was a bad omen for Rishi. He was sure that the day was doomed to be bad.

He looked around to find the source of the sound. It was Shalini's cell phone. She kept changing her ring tones and alarm tones constantly. At times even daily. ‘So now she has this cock crowing for her morning alarm.’

Rishi walked in to see his wife. She had skilfully postponed the alarm while still huddled inside the sheets.

Rishi continued with his shaving carefully avoiding the blood-stained area. He was going out of the city for a site inspection. He was sure that his work would be jinxed thanks to his sighting blood on his face.

As he was washing his face he heard the cock crow for the second time. He ran out of the bathroom.

He saw Shalini’s hand slowly coming out of the sheets to postpone the alarm again. Rishi’s hands were faster. He swooped on the bed and moved the cell phone beyond her reach. Now the cock started crowing for the second time, the third time…..

“Rishi… Rishi…..”

A sleepy voice mumbled from under the sheets. Rishi now had a wicked smile on his face. To make her wake up earlier than she had planned to, was on the list of small pleasures in his life.

Meanwhile the cock continued to crow.

Now Shalini sat up on the bed and shouted at her husband:

“Come on Rishi, give me my mobile. I am going to sleep for another half an hour. I had to work till 1 AM last night. Please give me my mobile.”

That was exactly the problem. Rishi was a lark and Shalini, an owl. Rishi could never hold himself beyond half past nine in the night, whereas

Shalini's hours of maximum alertness and creativity started at that time. When the novelty of their marriage wore off this difference in their circardian rhythms was the greatest irritant in their sex life.

Rishi’s voice was gruff.

“ The lady of the house sleeping till 7? Aren’t you ashamed?”

Now Shalini was fully awake. She never missed an opportunity to argue with Rishi.

“The man of the house going to bed at 9:30. Aren’t you ashamed, Rishi?”

“See Shalini, getting to bed early is a good habit.”

“Objection, your Honour. It’s your habit. It is neither good or bad. I can very well say, getting up late is a good habit.”

“Haven’t you heard “Early to bed and early to rise…”

“You will never meet the rich and famous.”

Shalini completed the devil’s version of the proverb.

“Do you know Shal, that it is the early bird that gets the worm?”

“I do, Rishi. But do you know that it is the early worm that gets eaten? “

Rishi was exasperated. He now talked with resignation.

“Do whatever you want. But remember we need to be downstairs by 8 sharp. Otherwise Dad will be annoyed.”

Shalini mumbled something like ‘Ask him to go to hell’ but Rishi did not hear that.

Rishis Dad ran the household with the military precision. In fact that was the only way he knew to manage the house.

Captain Ramnath had retired from the Indian Army twenty years ago after having seen action in the 1962 Chinese Agression and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

With a generous military pension and subsidised drinks and other items from the ‘military canteen’, with substantial ancestral properties and with his only son Rishi comfortably settled in life as Executive Engineer in the State Government's PWD, Captain Ramnath looked forward to a hassle-free retired life.

The only tragedy in his life was the untimely death of his wife Sheila, 10 years back. The old man was still in the pink of his health. Two hours of treadmill in the morning, a round of golf in the afternoon and some tennis in the evening kept him “fighting fit” as they say in the army.

Captain Ramnath was a nice man in his early sixties. He had done his duty to the country and had enough medals in his Uniform to infuse patriotism into anyone who cared to look at them.

During service, he had led his troops with an iron hand implicitly obeying his superior’s commands and demanding the same kind of unspoken obedience from his subordinates.

His method had worked in the army. That made the old man think that that was the only method that worked everywhere.

He had an army of servants – a cook, a butler, a steward and a gardener apart from the outsourced security services.

While he let Shalini go to work, he mandated that she should be back home not later than 9. The same thing applied to Rishi as well.

If ever the couple wanted to go out to eat they should apply for prior permission and their return time will be set by the Captain.

And every morning the entire family – Captain, Rishi and Shal – should be at the dining table by 8 AM sharp. Bed cofee, the drink most relished by Shalini in her pre-marriage days, was ruled out. The Captain would lunch alone on weekdays. The Captain wanted his supper by 8 PM. And if Rishi or Shalini were there in the house, they would be required to join him.

The menu was planned weeks in advance Any change required Captains approval. The printed menu for the week would be on the table.

Rishi loved his father very much and always played along acting like a low-rank ,subordinate military official before the Commander-in-Chief.

Shalini saw no point in going back to sleep after that heated argument with Rishi. She occupied the bathroom vacated by Rishi.

Shalini showered, draped herself in a well-starched cotton saree and virtually ran to the breakfast table. The time was five past Eight. Rishi and his father were waiting for her with an annoyed look on their faces.

“Good Morning, Uncle” she greeted Rishi’s Dad.

The Captain looked at his wristwatch pointedly for thirty seconds before reciprocating Shaini’s greetings.

Shalini was upset. If the Captain had asked her why she was late in a casual tone, she would have given him pages and pages of convincing explanation. But the morose look without even caring to enquire the reasons for the delay was dictatorial.

Even a schoolboy would not tolerate such a response, she mused.

They ate their breakfast in almost funerary silence. Another impossible for Shalini before marriage. With only she and her father at their dining table the ruckus would be audible two blocks away. But here breakfast, dinner, sleeping, conversing, why even making love – everything was a mere ritual, a military parade, something to be executed with inhuman efficiency and impossible courtesy and manners.

Shalini hated formalities while eating. She remembered her very first tea in this house, the day after her marriage. As soon as tea was placed before her she poured it into the saucer and swallowed the liquid with an audible gulp.

Captain was offended to say the least.

“Shalini, people of our stature do not drink tea like that. We take it straight from the cup without making noises like that.”

Shalini turned red. Had it not been her first day in her husband's house she would have argued in the same way she did when her college professor made a similar remark.

That was a time when Shalini was all fire. When she was enjoying her mid-morning tea in her usual style in the college canteen, her Economics Professor confronted her.

“Did they not teach you manners at your school?”

All the students were afraid that Shalini was going to give it back to the professor. But Shalini smiled at her.

“Sorry, Madam. “

The Professor sat in the same table and ordered tea. Shalini started conversing with her. She had some tea still left in her cup.

“Madam, I read about an incident in Mahatma Gandhis life which might interest you.”


“See Mahatma was having tea like us ordinary people, pouring it in the saucer. The place was London. A Britisher who was with him told him,
“Mr.Gandhi, that is bad manners.” To which our Mahatma replied…”

By that time the Professor’s tea had arrived. She took the cup to her lips and stylishly sipped the hot liquid.

Before continuing the conversation, Shalini poured the remaining tea into her saucer.

“Mahatma said, Gentleman, I am drinking tea and you are drinking manners.”

Shalini finished her tea in one gulp.

“Do you think I can improve on what Mahatma has said?.”

Shalini turned to the billing counter, “One tea for me and a cup of manners for my Professor. I will pay for both”

It would not have taken long for Shalini to talk back to her father-in-law on the same terms. She glanced at Rishi. His eyes were pleading.
Shalini’s heart melted. The lines of frown in her forehead smoothened. She muttered “Sorry”

It was just a day after marriage. And it was a defining moment for Shalini. She realised that for her marriage to survive she would have to kill a part of herself, a spontaneous, carefree spirit.

Once a part of her is extinguished, especially the part that rebelled, would the part that survived still be Shalini? Or would it be just her physical self housing the mind of some other docile, domesticated animal?

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue Apr 02, 2013 2:55 pm

SHE - 2

Shalini was clearly wounded by her father-in-law’s derisive looks. His brusqueness reminded her of a sudden thought she had on the day after her marriage. Even the vibrant mehendi on her palms had not faded, while her soul did.

On that day very much against her feisty nature, she had permitted someone else to instruct her as to what was right and what was wrong. Not in her eyes, but in the personal opinion of the other. Yes, that was quelling a dynamic part of her. Is this life still worth living, with the crippled part of her spirit that survived this onslaught? This question languished in her mind since then.

Every day immediately after breakfast, Rishi and Shalini would rush to their room upstairs to pick up their briefcases for work. Shalini was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a medium-size software company. At office, she was feared, respected and admired, not only her professional acumen but also for her fiery independence. Feared by her bosses, respected by the men and admired by the women.

Shalini was too depressed to do anything meaningful that morning. She decided not to go to the office. She changed into a comfortable kaftan, removed constricting inner wear and slouched on the bed with a Jeffery Archer thriller in hand.

Rishi was annoyed.

“Hey, old lady, what happened? Aren’t you going to office today?”

“I am not, Rishi.”

“Are you sick? Shall I ask our family doctor to come by?”

“I am not sick. Thanks for asking. Just taking a mental health holiday, a relaxing day off.”

“Now Shal, if you are not sick, then it is not fair to bunk office.”

“You are not my boss.”

“But Dad will not tolerate this.”

“I am weary of him. Tell him, that I am sick. I am not going to go to office. I do not owe an explanation even to my Managing Director.”

Rishi was upset by her curt response. Any further argument would only serve to make her even more defiant. He left her without a word.

Before Shalini completed a page more of Archer’s book she heard a knock. Exasperated she stood up to welcome her father-in-law.

“Rishi told me you are sick. I noticed that, Shalini. You did not eat well this morning. Shall I tell the cook to prepare a hearty chicken broth for you?”

“It is all right Uncle. Now I am feeling much better.”

“Ok. if you need anything, call me.”


The Captain was always extra-kind when somebody was sick. Shalini wished that he could have shown at least half of this kindness when she was late for breakfast. She could not focus on her reading any longer. Her mind drifted to her childhood memories.

Shalini was the only child of Shiva and Lakshmi. She inherited her mother’s good looks and more than that, the rebel-genes of her father.

Shiva had a raging lust for life, so potent that he lived only one day at a time. Shiva was the youngest in his family. His father and grandfather were rich landlords hailing from the then fertile Tanjore Delta region.

Those were times of change, when agriculture was declining in importance. Fortunes diminished with the introduction of ceiling on land holding and the uncertainty prevailing in the produce markets.

Still, Shiva’s father gave his sons top-class education. Shiva’s eldest brother became a Doctor and started minting money, sometimes even faster than the Government Mint at Nasik. Another brother became a lawyer and soon rose to the rank of Additional Solicitor General of India.

Shiva’s father wanted him to become an Engineer. It was only then that the old man discovered what a great rebel his son was. Shiva said a big NO to engineering. His father alternatively suggested medicine or law or any other profession which he wanted.

“Thanks, Dad. I actually want to become a carpenter.”

His father was shocked. But the old man knew very well that there was no point in arguing with Shiva.

Shiva apprenticed himself to a leading carpenter in Chennai. When he was 25, he was happy not only to have found a career but also an excellent medium to express himself – wood. He was not a sculptor, but he thought being a carpenter he could be at least as creative as a sculptor or a painter.

He started his career as a Woodwork teacher in a Government school. It was there he met Lakshmi, the sweet-looking Tamil Teacher. Lakshmi was elder to Shiva by three years. She was a spinster at 30 because of a serious problem in her horoscope. And she belonged to a caste several rungs down the ladder from where Shiva’s caste stood.

After a decent period of courtship Shiva proposed to her making her weep in ecstasy. .

That was the proverbial last straw on Shiva’s father’s back. He disowned his son, disinherited him from all his wealth and instructed his other sons to do so. On the very same day that Shiva set up a family with Lakshmi, he lost the family he was born in.

Very soon Shiva resigned his teacher’s job and started consulting for big projects. Unlike the other carpenters he could talk to the architects and the engineers in their own 'speak' and then translate their plans into the typical carpenter’s lingo for his assistants.

Shiva proved to the world that one could become rich and famous by doing what one loved to do. And Shalini had inherited the fiery rebellious genes of this master carpenter.

The ringing of her hand phone broke her reverie. It was the COO of her company, the one person in her office she could never get along with. Shalini looked at the time. It was half past ten. The busiest time in her Department.

“Shalini, it is already 10 30 and you have not come. Don’t you have a clock at home?”

“And Sundar, do you know how to see the clock and tell the time? Yesterday I left office around 8:30 and had to work till 1 AM in the morning. You did not see the time yesterday; but now you can see nothing else but the time.”

“Please understand Shalini, I have a lot of payments to make; you need to sign a number of cheques.”

“I have signed the cheques for all the payments planned for today. They are with Venkat. As to the last minute payments, well, it’s your problem.”

“So, what do I do now? Go to the MD and complain that the CFO is not in a mood to come to office today?”

“You can do that or..”


“Go to hell.”

Shalini disconnected. Given another thousand years, this guy would still not understand the fine art of planning ahead.

Her mind drifted again.

She was her father’s diva, his whole world. It was difficult to find another father-daughter in the world who shared that kind of a relationship.

Shiva did not follow anybody; nor was he influenced by anyone. He brought up his daughter exactly like him. He even saw to it that he did not influence her beyond what was warranted by his parental duties.

Of course Lakshmi doted on her only daughter, whom her friends said was a miniature Photostat copy of her. But the similarities ended there.

Being born of a rebel and brought up by a rebel, Shalini turned out to be all fire even when she was quite young.

One day Shalini overheard her mother complaining to her father about a neighbourhood girl who was smoking. Shalini would have dismissed that as a juicy gossip had not her mother warned her not to imitate that girl. Shalini was upset. She was hardly 14 at that time.

The next day she promptly went to a shop, bought a Gold Flake Filter cigarette and attempted to smoke. In the evening she told her father about her adventure.

She told him clearly how she was instigated and how she found the stuff utterly disgusting. She told him she would never ever do that again.

Her father said, “I am happy, Shal, to see that now you are vaccinated against smoking. I should tell your Mom to be more careful with her words.”

When her whole class flocked to the then popular maths and science groups Shalini chose the humanities Group for her Plus Two Exams.

She got her first love letter from her Plus Two classmate Aravind. She accepted the proffered love letter and even without caring to read it presented it to her father.

He had a hearty laugh reading the stuff. “This guy needs to work a lot on his grammar and his spelling, Shal.”

Without directly coming to the subject or commanding his daughter in any way Shiva talked about love marriages and arranged marriages.

At the end an impatient Shalini asked him what was she expected to do.

“Do you remember our dinner at the star hotel last week? Do you remember seeing their menu card?”

“I do.”

“The menu runs into pages. You didn’t just pick up the first item in the menu. You studied the whole menu, found out the food which you liked the most, enquired with the bearer about that item and then ordered it. Not to mention the discussion you might have had with your friends on which item is good in which hotel. Now this..”

Shiva was holding the love letter in his hand.

“… is the very first item in the menu.”

Shalini understood.

The next day she searched out the guy, Aravind. She informed him in a matter of fact tone,

"Aravind, I accept your love. Tell me when we can elope and get married.”`

Her words sent shock waves in the midst of boys who were standing with Aravind.

“Before we plan that you tell me how you are going to support me. Do you have a job? How much do you earn?”

Aravind was a sentimental type. And he did not want to miss the chance.

“Shalini, I don’t even mind being a Railway Porter to earn money for you.”

“Do you know how much a porter earns? And do you think you are qualified for that job? Apart from my food, clothing and school fees my Dad pays me an allowance of hundred bucks a day. Can you please show me a porter’s wife or daughter having this kind of life?”

Aravind was shocked.

“Idiot, this is the age to study. Not to love. If I see you giving love letter to any other girl in the school, I will complain to the Principal. The letter is my evidence. And then you will have to really be a Porter all your life. Mind it.”

Shalini topped her class, school and her educational District in her Plus Two exams. She was accepted to do her Bachelors in Commerce in a prestigious college. It was there she met Mrs. Malathy, her professor for Accounting. Malathy and Accounts were made for each other. And Malathy was a born teacher.

The way in which she led Shalini through the intricate cobwebs of a subject that was more than 700 years old and changing quite often, lit the fire in Shalini. More importantly like the other professors who had control over their destiny through their internal assessment marks, Malathy never demanded respect. She commanded it and got her students’ love too as a bonus. After a year with Malathy Shalini had found her ground.

When she was in her third year she told her parents one day while they were eating their dinner. “Dad, Mom, I plan to do CA next.”

Her Mom was not happy about the career choice.

“You doing, CA? I hear only men do that.”

“To my knowledge there is no such rule.”

“But then they may not admit you.”

“I will file a writ alleging hostile discrimination and then they would have to relent.”

“Why don’t you become a software engineer like that girl, Gita? She is in Wipro making fifty grand a month.”

She then dragged her amused husband into the controversy.

“Shiva why don’t you tell your spoilt girl that she should be a software engineer?”

Shalini looked askance at her father. Shiva smiled and patted Shalini’s shoulder.

“Lakshmi, first let her be herself. Let her do whatever she wants to. If my little girl wants to drive a garbage truck, I will buy her a Benz Garbage Truck as her birthday gift.”

Shalini blinked gratefully at her father through a screen of tears.

Contrary to what most men are prone to think, a woman’s first need is not security. It is not even love. It is freedom - the freedom to be truly herself and true to herself. Shiva belonged to the endangered and almost extinct sub-species of men who could really understand what a woman needs.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:02 pm

SHE - 3

Shalini’s unfettered and rebellious spirit thrived and flourished under her father’s upbringing. Shiva indulged her to be herself at all times. His intervention for course-correction was non-intrusive yet effective

Her mother, on the other hand, was love personified in its purest form. She went out of the way to make life pleasant for Shalini.

She took tailoring as her pastime only to ensure that Shalini had the best dresses which she designed herself. Their household had a a retinue of domestic staff and two cooks-one for Indian and the other for Continental cusine.

But Lakshmi would prepare food herself and serve her husband and daughter with her own hands. She would not even let the staff see the family eating together.

While Shalini showered love on her mother too, her independent nature did not allow her to permit her mother interfere with her own affairs. Much against her mother’s wishes she signed up for the prestigious, and notorious (if you consider the pass percentage) CA course.

Shalini signed the deed of apprenticeship with a senior chartered accountant in the city. At that time there were not many women doing the course. In the office Shalini apprenticed there was only one other lady apprentice.

Within days of starting her apprenticeship Shalini learnt the nuances of the trade. The work done at her office bore little or no relevance to the subjects she had to study for the CA exams.

At the office they prepared or assisted in preparing the tax returns of small and medium scale enterprises, visited some medium-sized companies for audit and once in a year visited some public sector banks and insurance companies for their year-end audit.

That way her work in the office served only to hinder her studies. It tired her early and when she returned exhausted at 7 in the evening she would not have the mind to study even a line. Shalini was restless until her senior apprentices told her to relax and defer preparing for the exams till the last three months, her period of study-leave.

But that turned out to be too intensive an effort even for a determined girl like Shalini. She cleared the First Level exams in flying colours. The final exam which would make her a fullfledged professional was really a hard nut to crack.

The study leave for the final, qualifying exam was about to start.

Shalini’s mother had been to a cocktail. When a friend enquired about Shalini, she casually mentioned that she was taking the CA Final Examinations that November.

The friend spoke fifteen minutes non-stop about the CA exams. Her son had been flunking the exams continuously for the past three years. The friend, to justify her son’s failure, told Shalini’s mother that the pass percentage in CA Final Exam was less than 3%.

A candidate could have been academically brilliant all her life. But still that did not guarantee any success in the Final Examinations.

Lakshmi was devastated. Not that she was worried about Shalini becoming a Chartered Accountant. But given Shalini’s temperament she was afraid that the silly girl might take the failure to her heart.

As soon as she returned home after the party she summoned Shalini to her room. Shalini’s eyes were red. She was sleeping only 5 hours in the night. Placing a hand on her daughter’s shoulders she narrated what her friend had told her in the party. Shalini confirmed that with a smile.

“But Shalini… why should you suffer like this if you are not sure of the result?”

“Ma, I am pretty sure of my result. I am working hard. I have not omitted any part of the syllabus. If in spite of all this if the exam is going to be tough for me, then it is going to be tough for all the 10000 and odd candidates who are going to write the exam with me. They can’t simply fail all the candidates, right?”

Lakshmi was not convinced.

“Do you remember that Tamil film we all went to see last month?”

Lakshmi nodded.

“In that film there is a cranky character who actually is the villain. But there’s one quality about him which I like the most. You see he is a race driver. And just to ensure that he drives fast enough, he sets a time bomb to himself.

“The bomb is set to go off at the end of the target time he sets for himself. Suppose he wants to cover a distance in 7 minutes, he sets the bomb to explode at the end of the 7the minute.

“When he drives having one eye on the bomb-time and one eye on the car’s odometer, he is bound to do his best. After all it is a question of life and death, you know?”

Now Lakshmi was really horrified.

“Ma, let me tell you another example. You know the Oscar Winning Director James Cameroon who directed The Titanic. He did the editing for that film. He used to stick a razor blade to the computer in which he did the editing. When asked about it he told the press, “If the film sucks, I’ll use that to finish my life.”

“What the hell are you saying, you devil?”

Shalini’s mother shouted pathetically.

“Please be calm. I am not going to do anything silly like that. But I want to tell you that my determination is no less.”

Perhaps Shalinis mother knew something intuitively. Perhaps she had a premonition that something was going to be seriously wrong. Very soon.

Shalini’s hand phone rang again. Thinking that it would be that silly COO of her company she picked up the phone with irritation but was thrilled to see her father’s number.

“Shalu.. my pet, how are you dear?”

Shivas voice never failed to melt Shalini.

“Dad, what a pleasant surprise! I am fine. When did you come back from Singapore?”

“Yesterday night. When I came home it was almost midnight. Are you in your office? Am I disturbing you?”

“Not at all Dad. I am home.”

“Any problem, dear?”

“No Papa. Not in a mood to go.”

“So if you are free, how about a date with your Dad? My executive lunch appointment with a client got cancelled just now. I have a table booked for two in Sheraton. If you are game, I’ll pick you up around half past twelve.”

Shalini hesitated. She had lied to her father-in-law that she was sick. But she was sure her father would definitely manage the situation.

“Great Papa. I’ll be waiting for you. But I have a small problem here…”
Shalini told about the lie she had handed out to her fater-in-law.
“I will talk to the Captain. I will take care of him. Meet you soon, dear.”

Shalini disconnected. The enthusiasm in her father’s voice was contagious. That vitality belonged only to those people who love what they do for a living.

Shalini started ransacking her wardrobe for appropriate attire. She did not want to wear the starched cotton saree which was still lying on the bed in a heap. She choose a pair of cool cream, linen slacks and a lime green kurti set with tiny pearls to go along with that.

She looked at the time. There was more than an hour left.

Her memories drifted again to her past.

Shalini wrote all the papers in the CA Final examinations in one go, a very rare feat in itself. And she retained her fiery identity even while undergoing the arduous process of writing the examinations. Her exams would start at 10.

But she would get up only around seven or half-past. Shalini’s mother would get tensed up. But Shalini had clearly forbidden her not to wake her up. And she would not study anything on the exam day.

Shalini’s mother was sure that she would flunk her exams and she feared that the head strong girl would do something silly. After the exams were over Shalini had to continue to work in the office to complete the remaining period of her apprenticeship.

CA results were due on that day. Lakshmi was more tense than any of the candidates who wrote the exam. She woke up early in the morning and walked to the Ganesa Temple four kilometres away. All the while only one prayer was in her mind. “O Lord, please spare my little girl. Take my life instead, but she should clear her exams. Please….”

When Lakshmi returned home the phone was ringing. She virtually ran to pick the cordless instrument.

“My name is Krishnasamy, Shalini’s boss. Chartered Accountant.”

“Tell me Sir, any problem? CA results have come?”

“They have. May I know to whom I am talking to?”

“Shalini’s mother, Lakshmi.”

“Mrs.Lakhsmi, please control yourself. You know very well that the pass percentage in CA is abysmal.”

“Can you please tell me what happened to Shalini?”

“There is nothing to worry over failure. After all Shailni can write her next exams this May. And I am sure with a little more preparation she would clear them. So..”


“I am sorry, Mrs. Lakshmi. I called up my contact in the CA Institute’s Office in Delhi. He says that Shalini’s number does not appear in either of the groups she has appeared for.”


“Shalini has failed in both the groups. I need not tell you Madam, but Shalini is a little, what shall I say, adamant. So please be with her. Tell her not to worry. “

But Lakshmi had already disconnected.

Lakshmi ran to Shalini’s room. Shalini had just woken up. She was brushing her teeth. As soon as he came ouf of her bathroom Lakshmi hugged her daughter tight.
Shalini was perplexed.

“Ma, what happened? Have they announced the results already? My friends called?”

“Shaloo, Shal dear, you are my life. You are our only daughter.”

Shalini did not understand the sudden outburst of love.

“Ma tell me what happened.”

With a trembling voice Lakshmi told her about the call she got from her Senior. Contrary to her expectations Shalini was not shocked.

“Is that so? Ok can you please get me my tea? I am going to the local Chapter of our CA Institute.”

“What for, Shalini?”

“To confirm the result. “

“What if your Senior said is true….”

“I will burn down the whole building, Ma.”

“My God.”

“A place where inequity happens is to be destroyed. I had prepared well and had written well. If they had flunked me, then the Institute does not deserve to exist any longer.”

Lakhsmi’s face went pale. Nevertheless she brought tea to her daughter. Unfortunately Shiva was not in the country at that time. Lakshmi badly wanted to talk to him even if that meant an expensive ISD call. But she could not reach him.

When Shalini dressed up and got ready to go, Lakshmi was also ready.

“Shaloo, I can’t bear the tension. Can I come along with you?”

“Ma, I am not a kid going to see my SSLC results. In a few hours from now your daugther will be a professional. So please stay home and wait for my call. Keep some sweets handy. I want you to be the first person to give me sweets, Ok?”

Even that positive note did not calm Lakshmi’s frayed nerves.
Shalini committed a grave mistake of not taking her mother along. For had she done so, her mother would have been spared. But destiny had other plans.

It took Shalini more than fortyfive minutes to reach the office of the Local Chapter of the Institute. There was a festive mood over there. Normally CA results are welcomed with a stunned silence. What was the reason for such a celebration, Shalini mused.

As soon as Shalini entered the large conference hall the students shouted at her. A burly co-apprentice came running to Shalini and lifted her up in the air. Another girl came running to her with a large garland.

It took more than five minutes for Shalini to realise what had happened. She had not only passed the CA exams all in one go but had been placed first in the country. Since getting an All-India’s First Rank meant a singular honour for the whole city, the students were in a joyful mood, though many of them had failed.

Shalini was rendered speechless. Her Senior’s contact in the Institute’s office in Delhi had bungled the whole affair. That was a wrong information.

Suddenly she remembered her mother's anxiety. She extricated herself from the clutches of her admirers and phoned her. There was no response. Shalini felt a distinct pain in her heart. She knew something was amiss.

She thanked her admirers, promising them a large treat later in the day and rushed home.

She was shocked to see a crowd outside her house.

She walked in shivering only to see the lifeless form of her mother lying in the drawing room. Lakshmi could not bear her little princess suffering. She could not afford to see her daughter fail, and then do something silly.

Her loving heart had broken down during those crucial minutes Shalini took to confirm the results.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Mon Apr 08, 2013 2:58 pm

SHE - 4

Shalini could never accept or digest the rudest, cruellest shock in her life – her mother dying at the moment of her glory. While her father gave Shalini a rebellious nature and a definitive identity, her mother, balanced that belligerence with her love and tenderness.

To the father and daughter drunk in the strength of their own identity and being, Lakshmi was a sobering influence.

Shiva was devastated, no doubt. Any age is a wrong age to lose one’s spouse and fifty years was all too soon. And to lose a wife he loved with all his heart for more than 20 years of harmonious relationship – well, a throbbing, live part of Shiva died on that day.

For Shalini her mother’s death only served to harden her further and strengthen her personality. But whenever she thought of her sweet mother even that tough Shalini could not help shedding some tears of love.

With a sigh, Shalini stood up and dressed herself, applying a coat of lip gloss. She did not want to go down before her father came as that would mean answering a volley of questions from her father-in-law. Soon a maid came in to announce the arrival of her father.

Shalini waited for five more minutes to go down. When the Captain saw her he requested her to go with her father in a tone which suggested that she was obliging him by doing so. Shalini smiled at her father secretly admiring his powers of persuasion.

Seated in a cosy table for two set with floating silver lamps and lotus buds in a copper bowl, father and daughter let the conversation drift to the trivia. Shiva could not help noticing how every man who passed them, looked long and longingly at Shalini.

Shalini relaxed completely for the first time in the day. As they were spooning the leechi kulfi perfectly set in a bed of fresh fruit, Shiva asked out of the blue, “How is life, Shalini?”

His tone was serious and he made it clear that he wanted a direct, honest answer. And he had called her by her full name And Shalini gave him the truth unembellished.

“It sucks, Pa.”

Shalini described her regimented life in Captain’s house to her puzzled father. Just to allow her to finish, Shiva ordered Turkish coffee for both.

Shalini now looked like the same 14 year old girl in boys cut and braces, who had given her first love letter to her father and was anxiously waiting for his words.

Shiva was in deep pain to see his little girl suffering. He forced an indulgent smile on his face and talked with feigned enthusiasm.

“Dear, I am not competent to advise you what you should do. But I want you to remember two rules. Your decision should lie within these rules.”

Shalini was all ears.

“First, you have only one life to live. So live it on your terms. Just remember, dear that everything is a matter of choice – your marriage, your living in Captain’s house, your living with Rishi, your job, your daily chores, even your life.

“You have made some choices; but that does not mean that you cannot change them. Got it?”

“You see pumpkin, we ordered some food here. The bearer brought our order. And now after tasting the items we realise that we have made a wrong choice. We can order for something else.

“We can refuse to eat what we ordered first. But, that, my dear girl, costs money. So you can choose and then change your choice. But that change costs, in terms of stress, in terms of practical complications, in terms of waiting time.

Shalini nodded.

“The second rule is that when you are trapped in relationships, be it with your husband, your father-in-law, your colleague, your friends, why even your Dad, remember that you cannot GO out of any relationship. You can only GROW out of it. I have seen my friends divorcing their nagging wives only to marry even more nagging women.

“But do remember whatever decision you take I am with you.”

Somehow Shalini got attracted more towards the first part of Shiva's words than the second.

Shiva dropped his daughter at her place around 3 in the afternoon. Captain had not returned from his afternoon round of golf.

Shalini went up to her room, changed again into the comfortable kaftan and took Jeffrey Archer’s book. But she could not read a single line. Her father’s words, especially those spoken towards the end of the meeting were haunting her. How did she manage to get trapped in this life, this marriage, in this set of suffocating relationships?

One day Shiva brought Rishi’s picture to Shalini and asked for her comments.

“Pretty handsome. Looks like a clean, healthy guy. But why are you asking me?”

“His name is Rishi. He is the only son of my friend, Captain Ramnath. He is an engineer working for the State Government’s PWD. His mother died a few years ago. He and his father live in a beautiful house in Anna Nagar.”

“Dad, are you suggesting that I marry this guy?”

“Not at all, Shal. You remember my talking about the menu card and all. I am just saying that this is one of the good items on the menu.”

Shiva arranged for Shalini and Rishi to meet in a star hotel. One thing led to another and their courtship ended in marriage.

At the time of her marriage Shalini was between jobs. She had resigned her first job and was looking for the second. Being in a Government Department Rishi could manage a long leave for their marriage.

They had a picture perfect honeymoon in the idyllic Kothagiri near Ooty. It had all conveniences but was far removed from the traffic and congestion of a popular hill resort. It was there that Shalini spent the happiest four weeks of her life. They literally spent the days and nights locked up in their room, wrapped in themselves-again literally.

When they climbed down from the hills, little did Shalini realise that the fall in height would be symbolically representative of her life after honeymoon.

Rishi was handsome, a strapping 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and pleasing, pleasant features. His sharp nose and the well-trimmed mush below made him quite dashing.

He did not smoke nor drink. The second was a feat because Rishi’s father had drinks every night before dinner. Many times Rishi mixed drinks for his father. But he had never touched the stuff himself.

And in spite of his stunning looks, Rishi always kept away from women. Very few men were like that, Shalini mused. Even the so called ‘moral and upright’ men ogle beautiful women when they see them on the road. Rishi did not. He was careful with his money, a wonderful provider and an excellent care-giver.

But the absence of negative qualities did not in itself imply the presence of anything positive. When the wedding bells dimmed, the honeymoon ended and the real marriage started Shalini realised that they were poles apart – in their qualities, in their habits and in their approach to life.

For starters Shalini loved to talk all the time. Rishi talked only when it was absolutely necessary. Even while making love Shalini would like to talk some sweet nothings; at times she was rather noisy in her passion. But Rishi would not even utter a word. And worse still, he never wanted to talk about it afterwards, though Shalini pestered him.

Their first argument started two months after their marriage, when Shalini told him that she was going for a job interview that day.

“All the best, Shal. But honestly, why should you strain yourself, when we have all the money we want?”

“But Rishi you promised that I could work after the honeymoon.”

“I did, Shal. I am not denying that. I am just suggesting that you can always stay home and give company to my Dad. After all he is alone. You can help him in managing the household chores.”

Shalini was silent. Rishi mistook her silence for yielding.

“Honey, it is enough if one of us works. You know raising a family is far more difficult than even your chartered accountancy.”

He meant that as a joke. Shalini now composed herself and told him non-chalantly,

“Darling, what you say is true. Enough if one of us works. Why not that one be me? So that you can spend more time with your father? He will be really happy to have his son all for himself for the whole day?”

“What the hell are you talking? Shalini I am a…”

Rishi stopped mid sentence.

“You are a man and therefore if you do not work, it wont look proper in the eyes of the society. But I as a woman can throw my ambition and even my identity to winds and be a subservient wife and an obedient daughter-in-law?”

“So you are going to go for the interview, right?”

“I am not asking for your permission, dear. I am just informing you. If you have the heart wish me good luck. Otherwise, see you in the evening.”

Shalini’s words ended not only the argument, but also all the romance in their lives.
They did talk to each other after that and also had a decent love-life. But there was neither passion nor romance in their relationship.

Rishi would get up at 4 AM in the morning and would silently go about his routine. Shalini woke up only around half past six or seven. At eight there was the solemn ceremony of morning breakfast with the captain officiating as the High Priest. After that they would be busy getting ready for their work. In the morning their conversation consisted of nothing more than arguments on some petty issues.

They would have lunch outside. In the evening Rishi would come around seven and Shalini around half past eight. Rishi and his father would have dinner together. Then they would be chatting till 9:30. Rishi would directly hit the sack after that.
Shalini would have finished her dinner outside or else eat alone around 9 30.

Shalini could never sleep till half past Eleven. She would either surf the web or be engaged in work she had brought home.

The next day - would be the same.

On weekends Rishi would spend most of the time watching TV. He would go with his father for a round of golf on Sunday.

There sex-life was not non-existent. That was about the most positive comment on their marriage. Lacklustre , sepid, lukewarm, tasteless- there were many apt words to describe their love-life.

It appeared to Shalini that they indulged in sex more to relieve themselves physically than as an act of passion or even love. Invariably, it would happen on Saturday nights.

This life exhausted Shalini.

A year before, she took the bold step of meeting a marriage counsellor. She spared no details from her. The counsellor, a family friend, gave her a practical advice of maintaining a log of the time she spent with her husband.

Time spent with the spouse did not include the time they were in the same room, if they were engaged in different activities. It referred only to the time they were talking to each other (not talking at each other) , perhaps the time spent sitting by each others side, holding the other’s hand on the terrace on a moonlit night.

She asked Shalini to meet her after a fortnight with the logged details. She told her that the log would be a significant pointer to the status of their marriage.

Shalini told her that there was no need to wait for a fortnight.

“Here’s my log.” She pushed a paper at her. In which was written, “Time spent together: NIL”

The Counsellor did not know how to proceed. Shalini now expressed her fears.

“You see, I am starved, emotionally starved. I now tend to cling to any person who shows me even a trace of love. I work with a lot of men in my office. I am on the Net most of the time. I am afraid very soon I might be caught up in some affair. Tell me what should I do.”

The Counsellor was now on familiar ground.

“Shalini, please do not think that I am standing on a moral high ground and speak against extra-marital relationships. I am a very practical person. These affairs always tend to destroy lives and families. A person indulging in an affair is a coward and a cheat. If you do not like your partner just end the relationship and live with whomever you like. But to carry on something on the side just makes your life complicated.”

The Counsellor then asked:

“Why don’t you guys start a family? If you have children it secures the marital bond. And you have somebody else to love, something to live for.”

Shalini had thought about it. She had told Rishi on their wedding night that she did not plan having children until she felt that she was ready for that.

Shalini did not have anything against children until she met her childhood friend Sumathi. Sumathi was the most beautiful girl in her school. While in college she fell in love with a guy and eloped to marry him. Shalini met her just a month before her marriage, in a Departmental store. Over a cup of coffee they exchanged notes. Sumathi’s husband had deserted her for another woman. Sumathi was the mother of two girls now. She was hardly thirty and living the painful life of a single mother.

Shalini asked her earnestly, “How do you manage, Sumathi?”

“Simple. I killed the woman in me pretty early to let the mother in me live.”Those simple words were profound enough to shake Shalini to her roots. Before she could take in the full impact of those words, Sumathi said,

"But the pity is, Shalini, even the holiest of mothers has to live only in a woman's body. Hope you understand what I say."

Shalini was rendered speechless.

And in that shock she had made a decision - not to have children till she was psychologically ready for that.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:51 pm

SHE - 5

“Just remember,my dear, that everything is a matter of choice – your marriage, living in Captain’s house, living with Rishi, your job, your daily chores, even your life. You have made some choices; but that does not mean that you cannot change them.”

“Simple. I killed the woman in me pretty early to let the mother in me live. But the pity is, Shalini, even the holiest of mothers has to live only in a woman's body.”

The words of her father and her schoolmate Sumathi continued to ring in her mind for the rest of the day.

Could she change her choices now? She had personally chosen Rishi, this life, this job and life in this house, which was monotonously becoming more like the military barracks. If she chose to change now, what would be her cost? Would that be affordable?

Looking back on that day, Shalini felt that the day reckoned in terms of events that had happened,was just another day in her life. Like the hundreds that had passed by and would probably pass by without significant alteration to their dreary schedule. But in terms of her thoughts, in terms of her emotions, she was sure that the day would have a special place in her life.

Instinctively she glanced at her mobile. It was still switched off. ‘

Oh, sugar!’ She swore to herself, a luxury not provided in the Captain's house. She smiled to herself as she thought of how she always called it the Captain's house and never her home.

She had switched off her mobile as soon as she and her father were in the car. She did not want anybody in the world to disturb her when she was with her Dad. She had forgotten to switch it back on.

Now as she activated her mobile, messages started flooding in. The first sms was from her colleague, the COO of her company, Sundar. ‘Please Check Mail.’ She smiled and read the next message. It was from Rishi. “Call me. It’s urgent.”

She immediately placed a call to Rishi.

“Where the hell have you been? I have been trying to reach you since 12:30.”

Given the days happenings Shalini was not in the mood for one more show-down with him. She patiently explained what had happened. Rishi did not seem to care one way or the other. He was keen on his work.

“Whatever` he said nonchalantly. “Can you please pack my clothes for two days and give it to my assistant, who will come there now?”

“Are you going out of station,Rishi.?”

“Yes, I am. I need to rush to Tuticorin for an important inspection. I will be back in two days. Pack my stuff in the green suitcase. My train leaves around 5:30. So be quick.”

Shalini was deeply hurt by the way Rishi informed about his travel plans, by the way he almost ordered her to pack his things.

Shalini could not help visualsing the same scene had the person involved been a really loving husband.

“Hi Shal, have been trying to reach you since 12 30. You are all right, sweetheart?”

“Thanks for asking, Rishi. I am fine. Was with my Dad for lunch. I switched off my mobile to ward off disturbing calls from my office. I’m sorry, I forgot to switch it on.”

“No problem, honey. As long as you are safe, it is okay. I just missed hearing your voice.”

“Is it anything important, Rishi?”

“Not really so, baby. I have been asked to go to Tuticorin with my boss, The Chief Engineer for an inspection. Kind of emergency. Do not have time to come home to pack my things. So if it’s not inconvenient for you…”

“No problem, Rishi. Shall I pack for two days?”

“Thanks, Shal. Two days at the maximum. But will try to be back within a day. I can't stay away from you for too long. And then, my friend has given me the address of an exclusive jewellery boutique.

“They have exquisite sets of artificial pearls over there. I know how lovely you look in pearls, I want to get you a salmon pink set. And I will buy you your favourite – cashew macroon. Low fat biscuits for my slender, tender wife.Gosh, how will I survive two days without looking at you, hugging you, kissing you---”

“Thanks a lot, me too, I can't wait, Rishi. Have a nice trip. I will take care of things over here.”

She remembered her Hindi teacher explaining a simple word in Hindi “khaash”. She murmured the meaning of the word in Hindi itself. ‘kitna accha hoga, agar’. ‘How good it would have been, if.’

‘Khaash’ – she sighed.

After delivering the packed case to Rishi’s man, Shalini opened her laptop and hooked on to the net. As expected there were dozens and dozens of mails in her mailbox. Sundar had apologised for his rudeness.

She knew this would happen. He would have taken up the matter with the MD of the company. The MD knew Sundar only too well to listen to his charade. He might have given a piece of mind to him which had prompted the brat to apologise. She gracefully accepted his apology by a short mail.

She read all her mails and replied to those which required her immediate attention.

Then she again drifted into a state of numbness caused by her marriage, and her present relationship with her husband. There were no immediate, visible problems, as such. Rishi was not an alchoholic. He was not a wife-abuser. But for the sharp arguments (which had now become their style of conversation) Rishi’s language was not abusive.

With regard to money matters Rishi was a gem. Though Shalini was financially independent, Rishi was a generous provider. During the last five years of marriage Rishi never asked her how much she earned and how she spent her money.

He was a perfect gentleman who had never asked her to contribute towards running the family. Shalini, like a typical accountant, was carefully investing her savings in good shares, well-performing mutual funds and safe bank accounts. She had a sizeable nest-egg now.

But the problem was now with the nest itself. Having a large nest egg but no proper, safe, harmonious nest to put it on is the pathetic state of many professionals today, she mused.

Rishis sterling qualities, strong character and simple habits made him a good human being. They also made him very reliable. But they were not enough to make him a good husband. Nor were they adequate to ensure that their marriage worked. If one does not relate to one’s spouse in any possible area, then what was the big deal in living together? Rishi and Shalini were actually living together separately.

She went into a website which was touting some psychometric tests to assess the status of a marriage. Shalini registered herself and honestly answered all the questions, some of them were like:

a) What was the last time your husband brought you a gift? (never)
b) When was your last outing together? (Honeymoon – 5 years back)
c) Name the activity you do together. (None)
d) Does he ask you, ‘How was your day?’ (No)

She answered a hundred questions like that. She had scored abysmally low. The test screamed at her, “Go to a marriage counsellor right now before it is time to go to a divorce lawyer.”

Going through the test only served to depress her further.

Her mobile rang around half past seven. Her father. Shalini was quite surprised to receive a call from him at this hour, and that too after the long lunch they had together that afternoon.

“Shaloo, I want to talk to you. Badly. It may take some time. But if you are not free now, I’ll call you later.”

A puzzled Shalini told him that she would be summoned for dinner with the Captain. And she had some chores to finish. Can he call her around nine, if it is not that urgent?

Her father agreed.

She was summoned for dinner at five to eight. The Captain was very courteous. He enquired about her health with the kind of concern which only a parent can have. He also briefed about Rishi’s trip. They discussed about the climate and the Television serials. And they fell silent, finishing their meal in peace.

Shiva called his daughter exactly at nine. Shalini had changed into a cool, cotton nightgown and was relaxing with the same Jeffery Archer book with not even a page completed since morning.

“Dad, is anything wrong with you? Are you all right, Dad?”

“I am fine, dear. Was just thinking about what you said this afternoon.”
“ “
“I’m sorry, Shalini. In a way, I’m responsible for this mess.”

“Dad, I don’t get it.”

“I should not have pushed you into this marriage. I should have let you make your own choice.”

“But Dad, my marriage was my own choice. You just showed me Rishi's’s picture. And you let me decide.”

“I know Shaloo, what kind of reliance you place on my words. Even before prompting you with Rishi’s picture I should have done the homework.”

“But Dad, you did the homework. You enquired about the groom and found out that he did not have any bad habits. And he is a person of character. I think you even hired some private detectives to snoop on him. You did not want your little girl to suffer.”

“Shal, that’s what every parent does. But for you, I should have run an extra mile or two. I love you so much, dear.”

“I know Dad.” Shalini’s voice was choked.

“Shalini, I checked Rishi’s antecedents. I checked about the family. I even ran a check on Captain’s life after his wife’s death. Everything was flawless. But having brought you up as a free person, I ought to have checked whether you will get the same kind of freedom there also. I could have found that out in a couple of visits to the house.”

“ .. .. .. ”
“I have known the Captain for the past 10 years, but only as another member of my club. I knew about his addiction to military discipline. I naively thought that in the background of such a regimentation your free spirit would shine by contrast. I even thought that you would reform the Captain and induce some spontaneity in his life. I am now afraid that it is working the other way round. I know how you feel dear. Please forgive your Dad for his negligence.”

“Oh, Papa, don’t be so hard on yourself. It is still a matter of choice, Papa. And you said it today. This marriage, Rishi, my father-in-law, my job, my life everything is my choice. You also woke me up today by saying that I still have time left to make a change.”

“That’s true dear. But just imagine the emotional price you have to pay. Changing the choice in a restaurant will cost you some more money and a little more waiting time. But in life, the emotional cost will be too enormous. Many times we cannot even afford that cost. And if the emotional price is unaffordable, your life will become a wreck.”

“Dad, leave it to me. You have done your part well. Rather too well, I should say. If only all the girls in this world had a father like mine, the world will be a far better place and the women would have a happy life. There wont be any need for the feminist movement.”

“Thanks, Shalumma. But still I have a nagging feeling that I cannot shake off. You know I had been to the temple this evening after several years. Not been there since your mother died. And my only prayer to God was ‘If I had made a mistake in pushing Shalini to marry this guy, then I am in the wrong. Give me any punishment you like. But just leave my little girl alone.’

Tears welled up in Shalini’s eyes.

“You know for the first time in my whole life I entered into a deal with God. I have vowed to God, ‘If my little girl becomes happy again, I will fast on Sundays and come to your temple every day.”

Shalini took extraordinary efforts to avoid breaking down.

“Take care, Shaloo dear. Will talk to you tomorrow. Good night.”

Shalini’s ‘Good night’ was barely audible.

Shalini woke up the first time the alarm went off. She felt distinctly uncomfortable. The alarm tone, mimicking a cock crowing, sounded very jarring and omnious today. It was not a ``rise and shine`` call for a new day. It sounded like a distress call as if the cock had seen its predator.

Shalini had a sinking intuition that something was wrong. Seriously wrong. Tears welled up in her eyes for no reason. It was then her mobile phone rang.

The maid working in the ground floor heard Shalini shrieking. “OH NO, NO, IT CANT BE.”

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Sat Apr 13, 2013 3:15 pm

SHE - 6

As soon as she woke up that morning Shalini had a sinking intuition that something was wrong. Seriously wrong. Tears welled up in her eyes for no reason. It was then her mobile phone rang.

The maid working in the ground floor heard Shalini shrieking. “OH NO, NO, IT CANT BE.”

Shalini’s worst fears were confirmed. Her father had died early in the morning. Her family doctor called her up from her father's house. Shiva was only 56.

Shalini was staring at the large garlanded picture of her father placed in the main hall of their house. Ten days had passsed since her father died. The events of that most fateful day in her life ran like a flashback for the hundredth time.

When she first heard the news Shalini was too shocked even to cry. She did not know how she reached her father’s place. The Doctor was waiting for her.

“I got a call from your father at 5 in the morning. He complained of chest pain. I immediately asked the cook to get a barbiturate for him. I came rushing. Massive cardiac infraction. He was alive when I came here. He was talking to me. But before I could get the injection out of my bag he collapsed and passed away. It happened at 6:02.”

Shalini asked in a broken voice.

“What were his last words?”

“He told me that he had donated his eyes. And that I should call up Aravind Eye Bank before it is too late.”

“Have you called?”

“Just wanted to have a word with you…”

“Please call them right now.”

The crowd was yet to come. Only the Doctor and Shalini were there. And she asked the question she dreaded to ask.

“Was he a heart patient, Doctor?”

“No. He was in perfect health. Looks like he had some shock yesterday. And it was too much for him.”

Shalini felt a tug at her heartstrings. Was she responsible for his death? Did she give him that guilt trip which ultimately proved fatal for him?

Tears started to flow as she remembered his last words to her.

“You know I had been to the temple this evening after several years. Not been there since your mother died. And my only prayer to God was ‘If I had made a mistake in pushing Shalini to marry this guy, then I am in the wrong. Give me any punishment you like. But just leave my little girl alone.’

“You know for the first time in my whole life I entered into a deal with God. I have vowed to God, ‘If my little girl becomes happy again, I will fast on Sundays and come to your temple every day.”

Shalini broke down sobbing.

By mid morning it appeared to Shalini that the whole city mourned her father’s death. Shiva’s body was kept in state in the main hall and hundreds of people respectfully filed past paying their last respects to him.

Shalini’s tears had dried up. She sat in a chair near her father with a hand on his cold forehead. “Dad you gave me everything I wanted. But did I give you anything you wanted from me?”

This haunting thought made her to sob silently by the side of her father’s lifeless form.

She was puzzled to see a old man in his eighties being escorted to the hall. The old man placed a large rose garland at Shiva’s feet and stood there sobbing. Then his escort nodded at Shalini and said something to him.

“Are you his daughter?”

Shalini nodded.

“I tell you, beti, even if my own son had died, I would not have grieved this much.”
Shalini was moved.

“I worked for your father. I retired 20 years back because of health problems. My sons let me down. My wife is dead. I came back to your father crying. He has been supporting me since then. What my sons failed to do for me, he did. A deadweight like me is still living, while a God like Shiva is dead. It’s an atrocious world, beti.”

Shalini muffled her sobs.

Around noon some policemen arrived and regulated the traffic outside. Some were deployed in regulating the queue. Some of them making calls to the caterer; some were making arrangements for the funeral. Shalini was puzzled.

Around 11 a person who appeared to be a high ranking police official came in. He was in his police uniform. He left his shoes in the verandah and tiptoed into the hall. He removed his cap and stood in silence at Shiva’s feet for a few minutes. Then someone handed over a large rose garland which he placed on Shiva.

When he came to talk to Shalini his eyes were full.

She recognised him as the State’s Director General of Police. She had seen his picture in newspapers.

“Mrs.Shalini, I am sorry about your father’s death.”

Shalini did not know what to say.

“You know Mrs. Shalini, I am what I am thanks only to your father. My elder brother worked for your Dad. That was 20 years ago. I had finished my degree and wanted to write the IAS exams.

“I wanted to go to Delhi for the coaching classes. My brother could not afford the money. I was disappointed. One day I came to the office to fight with him. Somehow your father found out and on his own gave full assistance for my coaching classes.

“I told him that I would like to treat that as a loan. He said, “Yes, it is a loan. But I’ll deem it repaid when you pass your IAS exams and then take care of your elder brother.”

“This post, this uniform, everything is your Dad’s gift to me.”

The DGP wiped his eyes and then talked to Shalini in an official tone.

“Mrs. Shalini I am deploying the city’s police force to do the work here. Everything will be taken care of. You need not worry about anything. For all these people……”

The DGP waved his hand to the policemen who were busy with some work or other.
“Your word is the law.”

“But Sir, that is not fair… please…”

“No Mrs. Shalini permit me to pay my last respects to the man who gave me my life and my career. Please.”

“But Sir, is it right to deploy the police force…”

“No problem. You see, Mrs. Shalini last month a minister’s mother-in-law died. I was forced to deploy a much larger force. She was nothing but a well-connected money-bag. As a retribution to that sin, let my men do some work for a really good man. A man who has made difference to many lives. A complete man who lived a full life.”
Shalini broke down once again.

The DGP waited for her to calm down.

As soon as she started to wipe her tears, he gave her nondescript card .

“This is my personal number. Known only to very few. You can call me anytime. Whatever you want, consider it done. Now let me do my duty.”

The DGP went away to bark instructions to his subordinates.

Shalini was moved more by the stories poured out by rank outsiders than the tears shed by her father’s close friends and relatives.

‘Dad, I know for sure you are the best Dad in the world. I never knew that you also were the best human being while you lived.’

This thought resulted in a violent sob which Shalini did not attempt to muffle.

Rishi and the Captain were there before evening. They lent invaluable moral support to Shalini. They did not have much to do, as the police personnel were orgainsing everything – erecting a shamiana, providing seating arrangments, press coverage and even providing refreshments to the mourners.

Shiva was consigned to flames in the electric crematorium the same evening. Rishi and his father were the first pall bearers, the police officer following. The old man walked a few steps and then had to feebly hand over his load.

When Shalini told Rishi that she would like to be in her father’s place alone, for a few days to put things in order, he readily agreed.

Shiva’s company lawyer visited her early next morning. Shalini who had not slept a wink the previous night was receiving visitors who came from afar to offer their condolences.

The lawyer wanted some time with her privately to read the will and last testament of her father.

There were no surprises in Shiva’s will. He had left everything to his little girl. But there were some moving statements.

Shiva had mandated that no religious ceremonies or rituals be performed. But he requested Shalini, the sole executrix of the will that some acts of charity be done daily for ten days after his death, in such a way, that every day at least a hundred poor people were made happy.

The second deviation was Shiva’s large consulting practice. Shalini, could, if she wanted , take over that and run the company.

But if she was not going to run it, there was a request, that she should not sell the practice to anybody else. Instead she should consider gifting it to two of his most loyal and efficient employees who were named in the testament.

Shalini opted for the second alternative. She instructed the lawyer to prepare the paperwork.

She also retained some kind of control for the first ten years just to ensure that the chosen heirs ran the business on the same principles and morals set by Shiva.

Shalini was sitting in her room in her father’s house. She spied a roll-top writing desk in the corner. She went to the desk and affectionately ran her long fingers over it.

She felt like touching her father. Her father had made it specially for her when she was six, with a rolling cover to lock all her work and thoughts inside . For a six year old that was a big treat, almost an admission into adulthood, a feeling that she was entitled to her privacy, her freedom.

At that time Shiva had more than 50 skilled carpenters working for him. But when it came to his little girl, he virtually carved the desk with his own hands. As if to pay homage to her father, her eyes involuntarily shed a tear-drop which fell on the centre of that rosewood desk.

A little later in the day Shalini was woking with her father’s will. Good properties affording steady rental income, shares in blue-chip companies, bank deposits and cash balances, gold and diamond, cars – all running into crores of Rupes, all waiting to serve his little girl.

As he closed her laptop with a sigh, she started preparing her life’s balance sheet.

In the balance sheet what we own is listed on the right hand side, called the assets side. What we owe is on the left hand side, the liabilities side. Her assets were academic qualifications, rich professional experience, an enviable career-path and enormous personal wealth.

Then what sat on the liabilities side? Her dysfunctional marriage?

The financial statements of a business would also list the profits and losses made in the accounting period. Shalini now wondered whether she had her identity intact or if it be provided for as a loss? Before marriage her fiery identity was her great asset. Was that now lost in the marriage process?

That was the story of many talented women in India. The most pathetic story that came to her mind was that of her friend who qualified for the IAS but was not allowed to accept the post.

Her husband had threatened to divorce her is she went ahead. Poor lady, she did not want her child to suffer. So she mercilessly killed the IAS Officer in her and the woman in her to give her child a peaceful life.

Shalini loathed such people earlier. But now she was also in a similar state. Thankfully there was no child to bog her down.

She made some crucial decisions in that defining moment.

The next day Shalini made security arrangements in her father’s house and returned to her husband’s place. The Captain's house.

Rishi was very kind. The Captain was even more courteous.

Two days later Shalini resumed her work. She met her Managing Director and handed over her letter of resignation.

“But Shalini, you can’t do this to me. This is our annual audit time. The Venture Capital people are coming next month.”

“Sir, I am not quitting now. I just want to inform that my three-month-notice period starts from now. I will be here to complete this year’s audit and deal with the venture capitalists.”

“Shalini, by any chance, if you are quitting because of that rat, Sundar, I assure you that he will be put in place in no time. If you insist I will even get rid of him. But please Shalini, the company cannot afford to lose a financial brain like you.”

“Sir, I am flattered. I am not quitting because of Sundar, though I want you to put him in place for the good of the company. You know my father died. My life is in crossroads now and I am terribly confused as to which path I should take. I am afraid I cannot focus on my work. So please…. let me go…”

The Managing Director spent the next one hour pleading with her to reconsider her decision. Shalini did not relent.

When Shalini reached home around half past seven, Rishi was waiting for her.

“Let’s eat together, Shalini. Dad told me that you might be feeling lonely after your father’s death.”

Had Rishi uttered the first sentence alone Shalini might have melted. The second sentence enraged her and she became even more firm in her earlier decision..

Rishi was talking about many things. Shalini was amused by this sudden outburst of intimacy. She controlled her urge to check Rishi’s forehead – to ensure whether he was all right.

“I have a question for you, Shal. Tell me in what way is this Friday important?”

Shalini ventured a guess.

“Are you going abroad? Or have you been promoted?”


“Are you getting a new car?”

“No. No.No. It is your birthday.”

Shalini was impressed. She had totally forgotten.

She vividly remembered her last birthday. Her father had greeted her first thing in the morning. They had lunch together. He had gifted her a brilliant pair of diamond solitaires.

‘Oh, Dad, how did you have the heart to leave your little girl alone in this cruel world?’

Rishi and Captain had totally forgotten. Only late in the evening did Rishi remember and brought her an insipid gift.

That memory served to harden her mind even more.

“What do you want for your birthday?”

Shalini tried not to be sarcastic. But failed.

“Tell me your budget. Rs. 500/-?“

“You are insulting me. This time it is going to be very special. So whatever you ask, I’ll give you. A brand new Honda Civic car? A sparkling Diamond necklace? An exquisite platinum jewellery set I found today in Prince Jewellery? Anything?”

“Are you sure, there is no limit?”

“Not at all. Ask and ye shall be given.”

“You wont go back on your word?”

“I promise, I wont. Tell me what do you want.”


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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue Apr 16, 2013 3:19 pm

SHE - 7

“You are insulting me. This time it is going to be very special. So name it and I will make sure it is yours. A brand new Honda Civic car? A sparkling diamond necklace? The gorgeous platinum jewellery set I spotted in Prince Jewellery? Tell me,”Rishi was earnest and eager to hear Shalini name her desire.

“Absolutely sure, there is no limit?”

“Not at all. Ask and ye shall be given.”

“And you wont go back on your word?”

“I promise, I will not. Tell me what do you want,”Rishi sounded like an expectant school boy.


Rishi froze. Then he managed a sheepish laugh, which had more of stupidity than amusement in it.

“Come on, Shal, don’t play games like this. Silly girl, you almost gave me a heart attack.”

Shalini replied with a bemused smile.

“ No games, Rishi. I am not playing any games. Our marriage is well past all that. I know and more than me you know that. I meant what I said.”

“Shal, sweetheart..”

“Rishi, you asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told you.”

Rishi could not bear this pointless dailogue any more.

“What the hell are you talking, you perverted bitch?”

“Language, Rishi, language. Is it written in any divine or diabolic dictionary that divorce is a form of perversion? What does the feminine gender of the canine species have to do with divorce?”

Rishi snapped and started shouting. He called her names. The ruckus he created brought the Captain stomping down to the dining table.

“What is happening here?”

Shalini was in a belligerent mood. She addressed her father-in-law sarcastically with a cruel smile.

“Uncle, you need to court-martial your faithful foot soldier. He is spoiling the discipline of this camp.”

“Dad, Shalini wants to divorce me,”Rishi sounded like a little boy whose lunch had been snatched by the school bully.

The Captain looked askance at her.

“Well, Uncle, my dear husband promised to get me any gift I want for my birthday. And I wanted a divorce.”

“What the hell are you talking you stupid girl?”

“You are wrong Uncle. Asking for divorce is not stupid. Living through the façade of this marriage is.”


“I don’t want a war. Let’s have a ceasefire now. I am negotiating the peace treaty. Let’s part as friends.”

“My God! This will create a huge a scandal !”

“If the state of our marriage is known to the world, it will be a worse scandal.”

“Please listen, Shalini. We can talk things out. There is no need for this extreme step.”

“No Uncle, I have only one life to live. And I don’t want to waste it on a failing marriage.”

“You know Shalini that divorce is a long drawn legal process. Expensive too.”

“Well, wrong information on both counts. If both parties file for a mutual consent divorce under Section 12B of the Hindu Marriages Act, we can get the decree in 6 months.”

“Oh, you have already done your homework.”

“I am a chartered accountant, uncle. I never make a statement without doing my homework.”

“What if we refuse to sign the papers? What if we are do not agree for the mutual consent divorce? What the hell can you do, Mrs. Shalini?”

“Listen Captain Ramnath. If you do not agree then I might have to file a complaint at the All Women Police Station inside the Commissioner’s Office. I will allege dowry harrassment. You two , father and son, will be arrested immediately. The enquiry and all will be much later.

“But before that your colour pictures will be there in all the papers.
“Then I will file a suit for divorce. I will cite two major grounds – one my husband’s sexual impotence, and my father-in-law trying to misbehave with me. The case will go on for three years. The tabloids will have a field day. Then Rishi will have to stay unmarried for the rest of his life. And that will be the worst scandal you can ever have in your life.

“But if you two consent, we can part as friends. Then you can spread stories about me. That I was a characterless girl, an immoral bitch, an arrogant woman. You can keep Rishi’s name and character intact and get a brand new wife for him. The choice is yours.”

“But Shalini I wont let you go out of this house. I will kill you.” Rishi shouted at Shalini.

Shalini’s pointed stare frightened him from doing anything.

Captain shouted at his son.

“Rishi will you keep quiet?

“What are your plans, tell us.”

“Very simple. I am leaving this house right now. All of us will meet at 11 AM tomorrow morning in my lawyers chambers. Here is the address. The papers are already drawn. We will sign the papers, shake hands and then go about our ways.

“But if you do not turn up tomorrow, the day after tomorrow my divorce petition will be filed. That is also ready, just in case. Have your pick.”

“Dad, she has lost her mind. Her father’s death has affected her. How can we let a mentally ill person go out of our house? Help me Dad, let’s put her in a room and then call the psychiatrist.”

Shalini laughed heartily.

“Rishi, I knew that you would attempt something foolish like that. That’s why I called the Director General Of Police – incidentally a close friend of Daddy – and asked him to send a police vehicle with escort to take me back from my marital home. Now do you hear the siren? Yes, it has come.”

The father and the son hastily moved away from her.

The Captain and his son did not want to take any chances with Shalini. They were at the lawyer’s office at 5 minutes to Eleven. For whatever it was worth, they had also brough their own lawyer. The lawyers discussed the wording of the petition and before 1 PM Rishi and Shalini filed the petition for divorce under mutual consent.

Shalini was officially, formally free now. Neither Rishi nor she could marry till the Court issued a formal decree of divorce. But short of marriage they were free to do anything they wanted.

Shalini relished every moment of her freedom. She was serving her notice period. She sold her small Santtro car and started using her father’s Skoda Octavia. Being bound in an unhappy marriage for five years, to start life afresh with her newfound freedom was exhilarating.

Time flew. Her notice period ended and she was relieved from her job. In another three months her divorce came through.

After being an astute accounting professional for years Shalini could not sit idle in her house. She could not live the life of a club-going socialite whose only motive was to enjoy all the hedonistic pleasures in life.

At the same time, she decided that she did not want to be tied to another 9 to 5 job. She decided that she could turn out good, productive, fulfilling professional work for five to six hours a day. She started hunting for the right job. Many companies wanted her, but only as a full time employee with unspecified hours of work and enormous responsibilities.

When a large software company advertised for the position of CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Shalini applied enthusiastically. But this time she did not specify her five-hour flexitime condition in the application. ‘Let them first assess my worth. Then I’ll sell my idea to them.’

As the software company was known for its best HR practices and liberal pay scales there were many applicants vying for that job. Six candidates including Shalini were summoned for the final interview. A day long interview left the Management undecided.

A Group Discussion was organised the next afternoon. Shalini was her usual firebrand self in the GD. Another young CA caught her attention. He had an excellent grasp of the Accounting Principles, very rich hands- on experience and unlike most of the accountants he was not lost in details. He did not miss the woods for the trees. Shalini and the other guy outsmarted all others in the Discussion.

As Shalini was walking out of the place she overhead the guy talking to another candidate. His tone was sarcastic, ‘Didn’t I tell you **** and brains are a lethal combination. She will get the job.’

That was an obscenity. Shalini had heard that quote earlier. The line belonged to a famous Hollywood Director. It was a humiliating reference to a woman’s private parts.

Shalini went out to them and said with a smile. “Your saying that within my hearing shows that you don’t have the brains. So if you happen to have the first one then you have 50% of the lethal combination that I have.”

The man was shocked. Having delivered a retort Shalini took her seat in the corner of the hall and was composing herself.

The offended young man now walked up straight to her. Shalini thought he was going to say something nasty. She was prepared for anything. She just ignored him.

“I am sorry, Madam. I badly need this job. After seeing your performance, I was sure I would not get it. My frustration made me to say that. I did not see you coming. I am sorry. I apologise.”

Shalini was moved. “It’s all right. Be a little more careful in the future. It is okay to have such views; but to speak out is inviting trouble.”

He walked away.

The other four candidates were asked to leave with the usual line, “We will get in touch with you soon.”

Shalini and the young man were the only ones left. The HR Manager told Shalini that the President of the company would soon see them both together, to make the final choice. Shalni looked at the other candidate. He smiled at her. She smiled back.

They were called in for the final interview in another fifteen minutes. The President of the Company was a woman in her early thirties. She looked quite stunning. Shalini looked at her competitor.

He appeared two, three years younger to her. But for a well trimmed mush and a French beard he was clean shaven. Baldness had started to creep into his head. His dartings showed that he had no regard for the establishment or the Rules. He was very sure of himself and his body language proclaimed that in no uncertain terms.

They were asked to make a presentation of themselves. The first to do was that young man. Shalini now knew his name, Jagannath, but he wanted to be called Jaggi. He talked about his weaknesses, his failings and only subtly hinted about his achievements and capabilities. Shalini was impressed.

Then it was Shalini’s turn.

The President was lost in thought for a while. Then she talked to them.

“You see, guys, I am really in a dilemma. I can see both of you are thoroughbred professionals. I cant even pretend that I have the competence to judge which of you will be better suited for this position.”

Shalini and Jaggi were all ears.

“And so my final, deciding, tie-breaker question to you both is this. If you were in my position, whom will you choose between you two, and why. Jaggi, you go first.”

Jaggi looked at Shalini for a minute and then started to talk.

“I’ll hire Shalini.”

Shalini was taken aback.

“And why would you hire Shalini rather than yourself, Jaggi?”

“Simple, I listened to her presentation. She has more experience than me. Second she holds an All India’s First Rank in CA. I don’t have any such distinction.

“And finally with due regards to the two brilliant women in this room, a woman who is a chartered accountant and has got a rank, certainly deserves more admiration than a man in a similar position. She would have had to work against all odds to come to this position. So if I were the President of this company I would hire her.”

Both the President and Shalini were impressed. The President now looked at Shalini.
“It’s now your turn, Shalini. Whom will you hire?”

The one thing Shalini had learnt from her father was to run the extra mile. And not just that, but running it in a different direction.

“Madam President, I want to study the profiles of both the candidates before deciding. I know my profile. Can you give me Jaggi’s CV and what his interviewers had to say about him?”

‘Smart girl’ thought the President and handed over Jaggis file to her.

Shalini skimmed the file for a few minutes. Then she returned the file to the President.

“May I know what’s the annual compensation budgeted for this position?”

The President was taken aback.

“Lets say, Rs. 25 lakhs.”

“My solution is this. Both Jaggi and Shalini are good candidates. Jaggi is now drawing a salary of Rs,10 lakhs. And the industry practice is that you hike that by 20%. That’s what he has asked for in his application. Am I right, Jaggi?”

The President was aghast. Jaggi nodded.

“At the same time I wont lose a girl like Shalini. But Shalini as of now is not interested in a full time job. She has planned to work for five or six hours a day on a flexitime basis.

“So I would hire Shalini as a Consultant, but working exclusively for this company, at a compensation of Rs. 9 lakhs per annum. Jaggi can be on the firing line and do the work. Shalini can work out the strategy and guide him with her experience, a fact accepted by Jaggi himself.

And you, Madam President, would be saving Rs. 4 lakhs in your budget. Now, if you have any other solution that will give this kind of win-win situation for all the three of us, I am all ears.”

Shalinis arrangement was accepted to the word.

As they walked out of the room Jaggi summoned enough courage to invite Shalini for a coffee. She accepted. They spent an hour at the company’s canteen discussing their future plans.

Shalini was happy to work for the company, and happier still to work with Jaggi. Shalini-Jaggi were really a deadly combination and Shalin’s idea was the best thing that happened to that software company in the recent past.

Shalini mostly worked at home. She attended office only when she had to make a presentation to the President or other external agencies.

Shalini and Jaggi were thrown together on many occasions and both started respecting each other and liking each other’s company. In sharp contrast to the contrived manners which prevailed in the Captain’s house, Jaggi was direct and many times, to the point of being curt.

One day as they were preparing for the companies IPO Jaggi confessed to Shalini that he was also a divorcee. He talked about his marriage to the only daughter of a very rich industrialist. His wife was too preoccupied with her social life to pay any attention to her husband.

Shalini was sipping her mid-morning coffee. Jaggi suddenly told her,
“Shalini, I have a feeling that we will make a great couple. I am not asking for your hand in marriage. Why dont we live together for a while and see if it will work out?”

Shalini dropped the coffee cup she was holding. The hot liquid fell on her mercredised silk saree and after a while seeped to touch her bare skin.

Ouch! she exclaimed. Looking back at that moment many times in retrospect, Shalini could never fathom if the ouch was for the hot coffee searing her skin or for Jaggi's wierd proposal!

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:53 pm

SHE - 8

“Shalini, I have a strong inkling that we will make a great couple. I am not asking your hand in marriage. Why not we live together for a while and see if it will work out?”

Jaggis proposal came out of the blue. It shocked Shalini so much so that she let her coffee cup fall down and spread on her saree.

Jaggi was apologetic. He picked up the cup.

“I am absolutely sorry, Shalini. Talking directly is the only way known to me. Think it over and let me know. Feel free to say no. But please remember that neither Yes nor No will not and should not affect our friendship.”

Shalini had not recovered from the shock still. She mumbled a barely audible ok and left the scene.

Shalini was continuously thinking of Jaggi’s proposal. Not that having a physical relationship with the handsome and youthful Jaggi had not crossed her mind at all. She knew only too well that she was no saint.

And that she would not be able to sustain the crusty, celibate life of a single woman for long. Eventually like every other woman she wanted to meet her “soul mate” , fall blindly in love with him, marry him and live happily everafter.

She was not a prude. Even during her teens she used to pass comments on handsome boys, a habit which continued even after marriage. That quality had irritated Rishi, no end. Since he did not have the habit of ogling, Shalini casting glances at handsome young men fanned his jealousy.

But Captain Ramnath was a different ball game. He would spare no woman, who came his way. He would glance, stare, ogle and if possible try to say hello to her, with his usual line, “Forgive me, beti, are you not Col.Krishnan’s daughter?”

When Shalini buttonholed him on this quality, his reply was an old joke.

“I may not be permitted to eat the food. But nothing prevents me from having a look at the menu card. And have a feel of it.”

He woud say with a wink.

Shalini’s was soundly grounded in her values both traditional and modern - another legacy from her father. Unlike the preachy moralists, Shiva did not suffer hard to hold on to the moral high ground. It was not fear that drove him to be moral and upright; it was all a matter of personal taste for him. This rare approach to morality helped Shiva to have an impeccable character and more than that filled his mind with compassion when he sat on judgment on moral offences at his office.

Shalini, was therefore, righteously shocked by this idea of “living in sin” and that too with a younger man. Not that Jaggi’s intentions were dishonourable.

In Jaggi’s ‘indecent proposal’ she only found an an earnest desire for a permanent relationship. It was at the same time a cautious approach of a person who was ‘once bitten’ by the institution of marriage.

Still she could not decide one way or other. She left it at that until the circumstances forced her to jump on to one side of the wall.

Three months had passed since Jaggi had advanced the bold proposal. And she had been a chaste divorcee for six months.

She was surprised to see an expensive wedding invitation in her mailbox. It was Rishi’s. He was marrying his second cousin. Shalini had met that girl once or twice.

She was much younger to her, a village belle endowed with sharp feautures and ample proportions. What she lacked was education. She had not even finished her schooling.

And of course, when you see her, ‘class’ was one word which would never cross your mind except by negative implication.

Shalini pulled out the ostentatious card from the cover. One thing hit her like a flash of lightning.

Captain loved simplest of proverbs. At times he would say something as docile as “Character is an important thing” and would even be proud of having invented a proverb.

‘Captainisms’ as Shalini had branded them were simple to the point of being a truism and served only to irritate the really educated. Rishi’s wedding invitation contained a ‘captainism’ which was designed to hurt Shalini.

‘At times education can be a reason for one’s downfall.’ Shalini did not miss the stab.

Later in the evening Shalini got a call on her mobile. Captain Ramnath, her ex father-in-law. .

“Am I talking to Miss Shalini Shiva?”


“This is Captain Ramnath. Got Rishi’s wedding card? Please DO NOT come. You see, Miss Shalini, within a year after the divorce, I have found another girl, a better girl for my son.

“But I challenge you, you wont and you cant find another man for you in ten years. For a girl drunk by her own intellect, this should have a sobering effect.”

“Objection, Captain. Objection. I have already found my man and am living with him. And you know, Captain, I have got a better deal. I did not have to search for an uneducated second cousin to prove my worth. And that silly saying on the card is proof enough of your inferiority complex.”

Shalini disconnected. She was surprised at herself. How did she decide to accept Jaggi’s invitation just like that? And how could she speak with such a sting? No, Captain tried to insult me and I had to sting back, just to guard my self-esteem.

The next day when Shalini and Jaggi were having their evening tea, Shalini told him that she was now ready to try his “live-in” model. If it worked out then they could think of marriage. She asked Jaggi to vacate his bachelor’s digs and move over to her place.

She had been thinking of that arrangment all through the previous night. She wanted to pre-empt any gossip especially in her office. She met the President of the company and told her about the arrangement. The President a 35 year old mother of two was first shocked. But soon recovered and congratulated Shalini. When she spoke to her Shalini could trace a tinge of sadness in her voice.

“I think what you are doing is right. I cant say that I am very happy in my marriage. But I am stuck. I love my children too much to even think of a divorce or an alternative arrangement. I am drowning myself in my work to forget about my marriage.

Shalini, many career women share my fate. We do not have bad husbands, per se. But we have bad marriages. Nothing now remains of my marriage but an empty form.

I salute your courage. Best of luck.”

Jaggi moved with his bag and baggage on a Friday afternoon. Shalini cleared a sunny room where Jaggi could put his stuff. At first both of them were distinctly uncomfortable with each other.

Their heartbeats were at least 20% faster than normal. It was one thing to relate to each other as professional colleagues; but this was something new to them. A relationship which was yet to take shape. A relationship which they had not even begun to understand.

Shalini strained herself to appear normal.

“Jaggi, you want your dinner here or shall we go out?”

“I am fed up with outside food. I’ll prefer home cooked food. I am famished, Shalni.”

Shalini knew that Jaggi liked traditional South Indian food. She asked her cook to prepare a full spread with sambar, kaara kuzhambu, rasam, kootu, poriyal and even vadai and paayasam.

Dinner was served at 8 PM. Shalini was in a black Mysore Silk saree whose soft texture served to accentuate the shape of her beautiful body. Jaggi was wearing a silk dhoti and a jibba, which made him appear young and matured at the same time.

Unknown to each other, their minds were on what was to follow after dinner. Jaggi had proposed a live-in relationship and Shalini had accepted. A live-in relationship definitely included everything, most of all, sex. But still neither of them was very sure. So they finished their dinner in relative silence.

It was quite ironical because when they ate their lunch together in their office they always spoke animatedly; but here when they were alone, while on the threshold of a much deeper relationship, they did not have much to talk.

They adjourned to the drawing room. Some precious minutes were wasted in meaningless small talk as they had the dessert of hot carrot halwa immersed in malai kulfi.

Jaggi was restless. Finally he summoned enough courage to broach the subject that had been in his mind ever since he moved in.

“Correct me, if I am wrong, Shalini. This live-in relationship… this living together… does it…. Include…er…….er…. er… how should I say…… But if you feel otherwise… no problem….”

Shalini looked at him. Her face had gone red. Looked like all the blood in her body took refuge in her beautiful face.

Her “yes” was hardly audible. Suddenly a change came in Jaggi. He came to Shalini and suddenly lifted her from her seat. Shalini dropped the cup in her hand. With the sound of shattered glass still echoing in her ears, Shalini was carried to her bedroom.

At bed Shalini was not only overpowered but also overwhelmed by Jaggis love. Unlike Rishi he was a compulsive talker and praised Shalini’s beauty sky-high while gently making love to her.

Shalini’s womanhood was religiously worshipped by an ardent devotee. Jaggi was on the one hand soft and caring and on the other, firm and forceful. And these two extreme facets of him served only to increase Shalini’s pleasures. She had never attained that kind of a bliss ever since her honeymoon in Kothagiri.

After their passions were spent Jaggi hugged her and went to sleep. Shalini was in so blissful a state that she could not bring herself to sleep. Her thoughts centred on the beautiful experience which transformed her.

She thought that many marriages became complicated because the simple matter of sex was not given the importance due to it. If sex is good, it will take care of a host of other problems. And if it is not , no amount of caring, love or money or anything else can compensate for it.

She went to sleep only in the wee hours of morning only to be woken up by Jaggi’s firm hug. Before she could realise what was happening she was dragged to the state of sexual bliss once again by her live-in partner.

When she woke up around 9 next morning, Jaggi was dressed up and ready to go.

“Take rest honey. I’ll take care of the office. We need to sit together for that Capex proposal. Why don’t you come to office around noon? We’ll have lunch outside and spend the rest of the day on the proposal and finish it, if that suits you.”

“That’s fine with me.” Shalini said with a smile.

Jaggi kissed her on her lips and took leave of her.

It was a gross understatement to say that Shalini was on Cloud Nine. She had a vibrant live-in relationship with Jaggi. Whether on bed or off-bed, Jaggi was an excellent partner. He was a natural conversationalist and they had many common things to talk about.

What Shalini liked the most about Jaggi was his respect for her professional excellence. At the office he deferred to her and in spite of the relationship he did not take her for granted. He maintained a respectable distance as he did earlier.

For Shalini time was flying. Before she could wake up from her state of bliss, two years had flown by. Six months into ther relationship Shalini suggested that they could get married. But Jaggi had other views.

“Six months is too short a time, honey. Let’s give this a long rope. You know in captial budgeting we take three years as a short-term investment horizon. Why don’t we apply the same rule here? Let’s not rock the boat, when the sailing is smooth.”

Shalini gifted Jaggi a new Honda City car. She also gave an add-on credit card to him on her account. Which literally meant that Jaggi could spend anything and Shalini would foot the bill.

But Jaggi rarely used the card and when he did, he gave the money to Shalini. “We should not let money come between us.” That was his reasoning. Shalini started liking him even more.

Shalini started to relax for the first time in the last 7 years. She might not have exactly found out her identity but she had definitely found her happiness. And that was more precious than her identity. At least that was what she thought at that time.

The going was so smooth that Destiny thought that it was time to intervene.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue Apr 23, 2013 3:09 pm

SHE - 9

For the first time in seven years, Shalini lowered her defences and started to relax. She felt lighter at heart and body, the roses smelt sweeter, the koels sounded happier.

She might not have exactly discovered her identity but she had definitely found her happiness. And that was more precious than her identity. At least that was what she thought at that time.

The going was so smooth that Destiny thought that it was time to intervene.

Shalini was an accountant at heart. While she was not so peevish to keep a detailed account of her personal expenses, (which for many accountants is an obsession) she kept tab on major inflows and outflows of cash.

Once in three months she would balance her banking transactions and monitor the performance of the portfolio of mutual funds that she had invested in.

Having nothing better to do that Friday afternoon, she was skimming through her bank accounts. Jaggi had gone to work. Shalini sat before her laptop which was connected to the net through a wireless lan to see her banking accounts on line.

As she scanned her credit card transactions, she saw an odd and large figure - Rs. 1,58,000. Her finger on the mouse stopped for a long,preplexed moment. She was puzzled.

She would never use the card for such a high value transaction. She used cards only as easy means of payment, for small purchases, less than ten thousand rupees.

And whenever she used her card she would pay immediately without availing the carry-over scheme where the bank would merrily charge usurious interest. She had never spent such a massive amount on her card in a single transaction, though she enjoyed a much higher credit limit.

She checked the transaction and found out that it was on her add-on card. Jaggi had spent it. She could not resist whistling. How could he blow 100K+ on a single transaction? Why did he spend this much and why was he in a hurry to pay that up within a few days? Was he hiding anything?

She was troubled. She hesitated a little before going further into it. Was she snooping on her dear Jaggi? Was she suspecting something?

Right from the days of her CA apprenticeship,Shalini had one clear policy, which she applied with equal force to financial transactions and human relations. Trust. But while in doubt, verify.

She trusted Jaggi. But she still had a doubt and she was going to verify. After all he had spent her money and she had every right to know how he spent it.

She drilled deeper down into the transaction. When she saw the name of the merchant establishment in which the add-on card was swiped she let out a louder whistle. It was almost an audible gasp. It was the city’s most pretigious designer jewellery shop.

Why did Jaggi have to buy jewellery and that too for one and a half lakhs? She checked the name of the jewellery shop on the city's online telephone directory and got their phone number. She called them right away.
She asked for the manager of the shop and when he came on the line, Shalini was all sweetness.

“This is Shalini, a chartered accountant. My husband bought me a nice piece of jewellery from your shop. It is so incredibly stunning that my sister wants to have an identical piece. You know what younger sisters are like---Do you have another one exactly like that?”

The manager asked for more details. Shalini could give the date and invoice number from her on-line banking account.

“ That piece was a special limited number commision. But today is your lucky day, Madam.We have just one more piece. Gold price has gone up by 3%. The centre piece of that necklace is diamond.

“Diamond is costlier today by 5%. Still we will give you the same price since we value your esteemed custom. But I can hold on to the price only for today. Do you want to come here or can I have the piece sent across to you between 4 and 5pm? That is the most auspiscious time today to purchase gold.”

“Thank you. Can you give me a few days time? I’ll pay more if the prices go up further. But can you send a picture of the necklace? I will send it to my cousin in the US. She may also like to have one. Please note down my email ID…..”

Why would Jaggi hold this information from me? This question never left her mind. Suddenly she remembered. She leafed through her desktop calendar.

‘My God! How mean of me! How did I forget? I am so sorry, Jaggi. I thought ill of you. Please forgive me.’

Her thirtieth birthday was just two days away. Jaggi had purchased the necklace as his gift. Jaggi should have tried to manage his with own credit card. But that did not have sufficient credit limits.

The shop would have refused to accept cheques. It was unwise to carry such a large amount in cash. So Jaggi would have done what was the only sensible alternative left. He would have used the add-on card given by her. And then would have transferred the money from his bank account to hers so that it would remain exclusively his gift. Shalini was quick to defend her love and his actions.

Shalini was moved. Now she did not have the mood to go on with the checking of her accounts. She closed the laptop and went to the bedroom.

Shalini did not talk about this to Jaggi when he came home in the night. Poor soul! He wanted to give a surprise gift. Why spoil that? She even thought of what she would say when she received that necklace.

“Thanks a million, baby. But Jaggi, sweetheart, the one gift I would like is our marriage. You see I have turned 30 today. I am not getting younger, you should know.”

This time Jaggi would have to relent. They could get married later in the week. And steal a week’s honeymoon in Coorg, all cloistered in a colonial bungalow amidst the lush coffee plantations.

That was probably the happiest day in Shalinis life. That night it was Jaggi’s turn to be overpowered by Shalini and be overwhelmed by her love.

The red letterd, nay D-day, dawned like many other days in Shalini’s life. It is not sentimentally right to call a birthday, a D-day. But somehow that was the apt description for that day, judging by the manner in which the events unfolded.

Shalini woke up a happy and expectant woman. Unlike many, many other women she had found herself, she had found her happiness before her thirtieth birthday. And for this moment of exhilaration she had to break her earlier marriage and break all social conventions and start a live-in relationship with a man three years younger to her. But everything was worth the while.

Today was the day when her 'living in sin' with Jaggi would finally start to end. Soon, her Jaggi would once again make an honest woman of her. Shalini smiled quirkily to herself when she realised that she was still a traditional Indian woman at heart, for whom marriage to a loved one- the mental security and social status that it endowed -meant a lot.

Shalini was up unusually early that day. She was eagerly waiting for Jaggi to come and kiss her and then adorn the jewel on her neck. Jaggi came out of their bedroom at half past eight. He behaved as if it were just another Monday morning.

As always he went into the kitchen, started the coffee percolator and made coffee for himself. He said ‘Good morning, darling’ to Shalini ,kissed the top of her head pretending to be bent over a Sudoku and sat down with a bunch of financial papers.

Shalini was surprised, ‘You, moron, having bought a nice gift, you forgot the day? Idiot.’

She did not want to confront him. His forgetfullness just made him more endearing. Her Jaggi was just a baby, her baby.

“Jaggi, the day looks rather unusual. Doesn’t look like our usual Mondays? What say you?”

Monday mornings were busy for both of them. The inter-departmental meetings happpened mostly on Mondays. Shalini would be in office almost the whole day.

“Is it? No to me, it looks like another taxing Monday with a dozen meetings and projects. I have to present our case to the bank today. We are going for an ad hoc limit of Rs 100 crores. The bank people are coming in the afternoon.”

“I know that Jaggi. I have prepared everything for you. You just need to show them a power point presentation. I have sort of prepared a FAQ and have put it in your mail box. I am sure their questions would not even cover one-half of that. Relax, baba.”

Jaggi was not impressed.

Shalini dropped many tell tale hints about her birthday. But Jaggi was not listening. When she had a moment alone for herself, tears welled up in her eyes. Her father had never forgotten even a single birthday of hers.

He would be the first person to greet her. His gift would always signify a cross-over. The first in the series she could remember was that beautiful rosewood desk which was her father’s loving way of telling her that she could lock her own things and have her privacy as an adult.

When she was 12 she got her first bicycle. First computer when she was 13. At 20 came her first car – a brand new Maruthi 800.

‘Oh, Dad, you are so heartless to leave your little girl alone in this loveless world.’

They had an unusually hectic Monday in the office. Jaggi could not spend any time with her till late in the evening when they were having their snacks. Shalini could not contain herself any longer.

When they were left alone she slapped his wrist sharply.

“Buddhu, do you know what day is today?”

“What day – today’s June 8th. First instalment of advance tax is a week away. Service tax has been paid before 5th, the due date. So what did I miss out…. Oh My God! How could I forget? So mean of me. Happy birthday, Shalini.

“Many more happy returns of the day. Today we’ll have dinner by the poolside in Accord. I will make a few calls and get a quiet table for just two of us, in a dark, secluded spot. We’ll leave the house around 8. You go home, birthday baby. I’ll tie some loose ends and be there in half an hour.”

Shalini was a little confused. How did he forget for so long, when he had already got such an expensive gift. She murmured thanks and stumbled out hopefully.

“Shaloo dear, Shaloo… here’s what I have got for you….”

Jaggi was shouting as he entered the house. Shalini came running from the bedroom. Jaggi hugged her tight and thrust a gift parcel in her hand whispering in her ears, “Happy Birthday, dearest.”

Shalini released herself from Jaggi’s clutches and with an expressionless face pried open the gift wrappings. There was a small golden ring and she was sure that the stone inlaid was American Diamond. Her accountant’s mind immediately calculated the cost of the ring. Hardly five thousand bucks. Then what happened to the 100K+ necklace?

Shalini feigned a headache and told Jaggi that she was not in a mood to eat out that day. Jaggi was surprised and made many concerned enquiries about her health.

“Just leave me alone, Jaggi. I will be all right in a day or two.”

Her firm voice conveyed him that she did not want any further conversation on the subject. She skipped dinner and went to bed early.

Two eventless days passed. Shalini still did not have the mind to confront Jaggi on the necklace matter. ‘He might have got it for his cousin as her marriage gift.’ The emotional side of her mind was trying to defend Jaggi; but the intellectual side was in no mood to listen.

The unresolved question was gnawing her insides. She wanted to act one way or the other. Then she had a flash. She went to the same jeweller and bought that identical piece for herself. Now there was no need to openly question Jaggi on this matter. If she just wore that necklace, Jaggi would be shocked into revealing the truth behind it. She was waiting for an opportunity to do so.

It came the next week in the form of the year-end party at her office. This time they had the party organised in the ballroom of Taj.

Jaggi had told her that he would come to the party directly from the office as he had some work to do.

Shalini chose an raw silk saree in jet black with a plain choli with straps that went well with the necklace and highlighted it. As she got into her car and fingered the jewel looking in the rear view mirror, she had a wicked pleasure of imagining the expression of shock in Jaggi’s face when he saw that necklace on her.

Little did she know at that time that her shock was going to be much, much greater.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri Apr 26, 2013 3:04 pm

SHE - 10

Shalini chose an raw silk saree in jet black with a plain choli with straps that went well with the necklace and highlighted it. As she got into her car and fingered the jewel looking in the rear view mirror, she indulged in a wicked moment of imagining the shock on Jaggi’s face when he saw that necklace on her.

Little did she know then that her shock would be much, much greater.

Shalini was early for the year-end party. The CEO of the company and a few other executives had arrived early to greet everyone. The CEO welcomed Shalini warmly with a hug. Social graces were high since it was a light evening. Soon both the ladies were nursing a Mojito, talking shop.

The CEO had her own share of problems. She was constantly hard pressed for time and was always in a frenzied state. No wonder she did not notice the expensive jewel adorning Shalini.

The CEO went away to freshen her glass. Shalini instincively looked at the door. It swung open to let in Nandini, working in the PR Department of the company.

The CEO was now walking towards Shalini with her drink. Nandini was also walking towards Shalini. When Nandini was fifteen feet away, turning her head the other side and greeting a colleague, Shalini understood what was happening and she immediately retreated.

Yes, Nandini was wearing that Rs. 158000 necklace. Shalini ran to the ladies rest room unable to hold tears of betrayal and humiliation.

Nandini was an unusually tall woman – 5’ 10”. With a well endowed body she was a dream girl to the men in the office. To the women and the men not smitten by Nandini colleagues`, she was an eye sore.

The ladies had secretly nicknamed her the Office Vamp, OV. There would be a hardly a private meeting of women in the office in which OV’s dress sense, or the obscene lack of it would not be discussed.

OV would come dressed in a tight fitting jeans and a tighter-fitting T-shirt distracting men and irritating women. Office dress code seemed to be non-existent for Nandini.

OV was sadly challenged on the brains side, but she had enough street smartness to know where her endowments lay and how to use them to her advantage. The PR Manager used her as a bait to get things done with Government Departments.

When the company had problems with the Central Excise Department, OV was despatched along with some Accounts Personnel. Her presence did make a difference and soon the matter was disposed in company’s favour. OV had earned her salary, playing a modern day corporate Menaka.

In the absolute privacy of the rest room Shalini could not help wondering, “But how come my Jaggi, my dear Jaggi, fell prey to her charms?”

She tried to console herself. ‘May be she had bought an identical piece herself.’ But then she remembered the words of the jeweller. ‘Madam, we have sold only two pieces of this exquisite necklace. And both are with you.’

Shalini’s mind warned her that she was racing to ill founded conclusions. Her intellect replied sarcastically that it did not require a genius to make out that two and two would equal four in this case.

Anyhow Shalini wanted to get to the bottom of the issue before taking any decision. She wanted the bare truth before she decided.

She dabbed her tears, touched up her mascara and walked out of the rest room feigning a smile. There was more of pain than feigned happiness in it.

A forced smile strains the mind a lot more than outright crying. Shalini felt the strain.

She was of course careful enough to take off her necklace and place it safely in her hand bag.

She picked up another goblet of a drink and went directly to Nandini.

“Evening, Shalini.”

“Evening, Nandu. So how are you? Wow, that’s an exquisite piece of jewellery. I think it’s the newest design.”

“Yes, Shalini. It is.”

“I love it. Where did you get it? Bombay?”

Shalini was hoping upon hope that she would at least name another jeweller putting her worst fears to rest. But Nandini loftily murmured the same jewellers name.

“Shalini, are you all right? What happened?”

“No, nothing. I slept badly last night and now it is telling on my nerves. Nandini, that jewel should have cost you a fortune.”

“Come on, Shalini. You make a guess.”

Shalini had to put on enormous efforts to appear thinking about the price. Well, she could even say the invoice number and the shops sales tax registration number. How could she ever forget those details?

“Well, Nandini, the design is the latest. It is set in Hallmark 916 KDM gold. The centre-piece is a rock, a very precious diamond. I wont be surprised if it costs more than a lakh of Rupees. Why even one and a half lakhs, given the gold price today.”

“Wow… You are off the mark by just Rs.8000. It cost Rs.158000.”

‘I know that, you slut.’ Shalini’s mind shouted to her.

“Of course it cost me nothing. It was a gift.”

‘I know that also, bitch’ thought Shalini

Both the ladies turned to the door which now swung open to let in, who else but, the man of the hour- Jaggi.

Now Shalini had churned herself into a belligrent mood. She was especially bitchy when she talked to Jaggi.

“Jaggi, did you see this necklace? Exquisite, yaar. Why didn’t you get something like this for my birthday? You got me an dull, old-fashioned gold ring.”

Jaggi went pale.

Nandini retreated from them with a lame excuse. Jaggi and Shalini were left alone.
Shalini was watching him with a wicked smile. Then she opened her handbag and took out her copy of that jewellery. She flaunted it before Jaggi.

“Shalini, I need to talk to you.”


“Let’s not do it here. We’ll go to the car park.”

“Shalini I can explain.”


They were in the almost deserted area of the hotel’s enormous car park. Some drivers of the parked cars were on the other side of the park where there was a bright light. Jaggi and Shalini stood in relative darkness.

“We had some service tax problems with our Pune Office.”

“I know.”

“I went there last month to sort out the issues. I was there for ten days; but the Department was tough. They threatened to levy a huge penalty. I called the CEO. She told me that Nandini had some friends there and that she was sending her there.

“Nandini’s friend was really poweful and our problems disappeared in no time. The work was over late in the evening and we were booked in the early morning flight. Nandini insisted that we stay in the same room.

“I should have said a firm no. But I confess, Shalini, it was a weak moment for me. I was away for ten days. I succumbed to her charms. But believe me Shaloo, I did not have anything else in my mind other than a one night’s stand.

“And the bitch clicked some pictures in her mobile phone. She threatened to show them to you unless I get her that necklace. I was trapped, Shalini.”

Shalini had a stony expression in her face. Anger, grief, betrayal and humiliation – all these feelings crowded her mind and had immobilised it.

“Believe me, Shalini, the whore, she seduced me. I was busy with my laptop. She dressed herself in a transparent teddy, came near me and…”

“Stop it. Please spare me those lurid details.”

“Shaloo, you will never know, Shaloo, I cried over that incident for many nights. You will never know how I suffered all these days.

“Well, I cant say that I am blameless. But given that kind of temptation, given those circumstances, I did only what any other man would have done. Please understand, Shaloo. I am not a saint.”

Shalini’s face looked like a stone sculpture. There was no trace of any feeling or emotion in it.

Jaggi was terrified of Shalini’s expression. He tried to shake her with his hands.

“Please Shalini, tell me something. Please speak. What’s your response…. Please tell me….”

She changed her handbag from her right hand to her left and slapped Jaggi on his face with her right hand. The sound made a few drivers run to the scene.

“This is my response, you unfaithful cad.”

Shalini was driving her father’s Skoda on the East Coast Road. She could easily rid Jaggi out of her house and out of her life, but not out of her mind. She had to concede that the two years spent in his company was one of the happiest periods of her life.

Had Shalini been living alone after her divorce, by this time she might have gotten used to that solitude. She would have become friends with her loneliness and might have even chosen that as a way of her life. But during the last two years she had been used to company, the company of a young, handsome, virile man. ‘Male company is habit forming’ Shalini smiled at her own aphorism.

Jaggi was ready to do anything in retribution. He was even prepared to marry Shalini to show his love and commitment. At the least he wanted to talk further on the issue. He did not want to lose her. But an emotionally spent Shalini made herself clear to him.

“Jaggi, I could have overlooked your indiscretion, had you told me about it soon after it happened. Though I am not sure, I would have considered pardoning you. But you wanted to hide it from me. That hurt me a lot. Yes, I can forgive you and we can continue to live as if nothing happened.

“But I will never have the same kind of the faith in you that I had earlier. Whenever you are away travelling, I will have those fears and suspicions. I think the relationship is over. It’s better for both of us that we part now.After all ours is not a formal marriage to try hard to work on it. It’s just a live-in. Lets take the full advantage of this arrangement.”

Shalini was quite generous to Jaggi. She let him keep the Honda City she gifted to him. When Jaggi told her that if they parted it would be difficult for them to work together for the same company in the same department, Shalini surprised him with her words.

“I know that. So I am putting in my papers. I know that this job means a lot to you. I also heard from the corporate grapevine that the present CEO may opt for an early retirement next year. She wants to be with her daughter in the US. You are likely to promoted as the CEO soon. Best of luck.”

Jaggi packed his things and left her place as unceremoniously as he came in.

“But given that kind of temptation, given those circumstances, I did only what any other man would have done.”

For no rhyme or reason the words uttered by Jaggi on the hotel’s deserted car park came to her mind. Was that true?

Shalini could not help thinking about Rishi. In similar circumstances Rishi would not have opted to stay with another woman in the same room. But even if he had she was sure he would not have touched that woman.

Shalini also remembered her final interview with the CEO of the company. She told her that she was quitting to look after her father’s consulting practice. She did not say anything about Jaggi’s cheating on her.

That might cast some black marks on him and might hinder his career. But she told the CEO that they were separating.

“He is not my type of man. I think I might have to look out for a better man.”

Shalini said that with a forced smile. She had to strain herself a lot to bring out that lie.

The CEO was shocked.

“Shalini, what I am saying is off the record and purely in my personal capacity, as your friend and another woman. When you and Jaggi started to live together I felt bad about myself.

“I chided myself for not having the kind of courage you had to experiment something like that. But girl, now I tell you, you are chasing a mirage. And you will realise this when you are old and………… alone. Good luck.”

Shalini smiled in exasperation.

Shalini was lost in thoughts. Her full attention was not on driving. It was mid afternoon and the road was almost deserted. Driving a car was second nature for Shalini and she was familiar with all the twists and turns of the accident-prone East Coast Road.

From out of blue a young woman jumped in front of the car. Shalini’s reflexes were swift. She applied the brakes and the vehicle grinded to a screeching halt. But Shalini could hear the sound of the car’s metal hitting something hard.

Shalini rushed out of her car to see a girl lying in a pool of blood. Shalini froze.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue Apr 30, 2013 3:36 pm

SHE - 11

As Shalini was driving on the East Coast Road drowned in thoughts, out of the blue,a young girl jumped in front of her car. Shalini reflexively applied the brakes and the vehicle ground to a screeching halt. Still Shalini could hear a dull thud- the alarming sound of the car’s fenders hitting something hard.

Shalini panicked out of the vehicle only to see a girl lying in a pool of blood. She froze, her hands felt clammy and her head reeled more than ever that day.

Shalini bent down to check on the victim. The victim was a lean and wiry young girl, with a crew cut. She was wearing a tight fitting pair of Levis and a blue flannel shirt that seemed to conceal her curves.

The girl betrayed no signs of life whatsoever. But Shalini was not one to give up. Not on this girl, not on anything. She had a well- stocked first aid kit in her car and had undergone minimal, casualty first aid training. But she was not sure of handling a case of head injury.

She was not even sure of lifting the girl to the car all by herself, without causing more damage.

She tried to stop the vehicles that whizzed by. None cared enough to stop. Either they were in a hurry or they did not want the hassle of having to wait in the grim corridors of a hospital or a police station or a court house.

Then she remembered. She emptied the contents of her Gucci handbag on the car seat. There among the scientific calculator, the tissue wad, the ballpens, the lip gloss, the odd tampon, her parents' photo, she found what she was searching for. She fished out the non-decript card given by the Director General of Police.

She tersely explained her situation to him in very few words and sought his help to save the young lady who was still unconscious and limp.In another ten minutes, a state of the art ambulance and a police vehicle arrived on the spot. Without the sirens blaring and the lights blazing. Amazing, what some influence could achieve.

Shalini’s money-power and the DGP’s influence ensured a lot of silence, and that the best medical attention was rendered to the girl. The girl regained consciousness three days and two complicated surgeries later. As soon as she was out of danger, a maxillo facial surgeon and a plastic surgeon teamed up to reconstruct her face.

Shalini did not want to abuse her influence with the law. She called the DGP to tell him that she wanted the law to take its own course. The DGP told her that he would not have had it any other way himself .

He told her that the jurisdictional police officer would interrogate the victim and ensure that the truth was established . Based on the victim's statement, appropriate legal action would be taken against Shalini.

And so, it was a huge surprise and relief to all the law-abiding citizens and officers, when the girl gave her statement that Shalini was not to be blamed for any lapse in driving. The 'victim' claimed that she had been so embittered with life that she wanted to kill herself.

Shalini was released from the case while an attempt to commit suicide was booked on that hapless girl. Shalini stood as surety for her and saw to it that she did not go to prison directly from the hospital. Shalini invited her to her house. She also took the responsibility of defending her case.

Shalini was tactful and sensitive to leave the girl to her own pensive moods and thoughts, as long as the legal and medical complications dragged on. The girl was moved by Shalini’s care and attention.

It was also a pleasant feeling for Shalini to have somebody to care for, someone to love, and something to live for. She enjoyed her project, the presence of the young girl in her house.

The thought of having another heart beat in the house made her look forward to coming back home.After parting with Jaggi and after resigning that job, Shalini felt terribly lonely and the girl was an interesting diverson.

Weeks later, Shalini and her protege were sitting in the garden, sipping warm tea, when Shalini asked the girl,

“Latha, you can refuse to answer my question. I just want to know whether I can do anything about it, anything at all to help. Why did you try to kill yourself?”

Latha sighed and started a long narration.

Latha was born the eldest daughter of a rich businessman. She had just finished her Bachelors in Engineering. Given her outgoing personality, excellent grades and command over English, she landed a plum software job.

It was there that she met Natasha. Natasha was her Team Leader in the company. She was from Pune and elder to Latha by two years. She liked Latha and the enthusiasm with which she did her tasks.They soon became thick friends. When they were not working they would either be in Latha’s house or in Natasha’s apartment.

A friendship started between them that soon outgrew the professional relationship they had. And soon, the friendship evolved into a companionship that was far stronger and entrancing than the frienship they had. Than any other relationship that either of them had ever had.

When Latha’s parents broached the subject of marriage, she vehemently opposed it. She told them that she wanted to work for two or three years. That was a reason devised by her head. Her heart alone knew the real reason: she could not bear to be away from Natasha.

Latha could never forget that evening. They were discussing some coding procedures in Latha’s room. It started raining and then pouring. Natasha could not go out and drive back to her apartment in the city.

She had to crash overnight. As the friends were chatting pointlessly, they discovered one thing – neither of them were fascinated by men. At first it was just a casual fact finding. It did not matter any more than that.

As the lights were switched off, they traipsed the nebulous line of friendship and companionship, and their relationship rose to a deeper and more intimate level .

That was a night that changed their lives permanently. Not just their lives, but the lives of many others too. They discovered that they had a different orientation.

They were riding on the crest of a wave of passion, when suddenly their secret was unravelled by Latha’s mother.To her, it was a matter of great shame and graver scandal.

Latha was devastated by the words that her mother hurled against her. She even threatened to hand over her daughter to police for “acts of perversion.”

For good measure Latha was kept locked up in her room. The windows were barred and thick,dark curtains were hung to minimise any contact or sunlight entering the room.

Food was regularly served three times a day. Latha was not allowed any kind of contact with the outside world. She was not allowed to watch the TV or read the papers or even surf the internet.

For some bizzare reason, a few wierd poojas were conducted by some sleazy looking fake Swamis who claimed that they could cure Latha of her madness, while leering away at her curves all the time. Even a small time psychiatrist was summoned in all secrecy into the house to give her some counselling.

After a gruelling and confusing week of treatment and solitary confinement, Latha somehow managed to escape from the house. But with no money in hand, certificates, ID cards, debit cards and car keys locked up in her house, she was overwhelmed by the outside world.

She tried to contact Natasha, but could not reach her. She was sure that she would be caught by her parents and handed over to the police. She had decided to kill herself and had walked all the way to the East Coast Road on the fateful day to leap before Shalini’s car. In all her grief, this was the one good deed that she did. To herself.

Shalini let out an audible gasp. It was one thing to read about same-sex relationships, see some pictures on the internet, or take a moral stand on the issue.

It is a totally different thing to see a live person in flesh and blood who had that orientation. Shalini was lost in thought for a while.

For one more time her father came to her rescue.

When Shalini was doing her first year in college her father brought her an unusual gift from Far East.

“Shalumma, this time I got a clock for you.”

Shalini’s face fell. After all, she had about a dozen table clocks, alarms and wrist watches to go with each of her dresses. She knew all about the value of time.

Shiva read his little girl’s mind.

“That is not just a clock. It is a lesson in life.”

At 16, Shalini could not understand her father's words.

“Open the packing and tell me what you see.”

The clock looked like any other average,normal, regular clock. But Shalini was surprised to see the clock-face.

“Dad, you have got the wrong clock. I am sure its defective. You see the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. should be to the right of 12. In this clock it is to the left.”

Shiva lauged.

“Aha, there you are! Let us not jump to judgments Shalumma. The clock is different but not defective. It is a quartz clock and the crystal-movement moves two power fifteen times, that is 32768 times, every second, as in any other quartz clock. And it maintains perfect time.”

“But Dad, the numbers are all wrong.”

“Who told you that the numbers that you have been seeing till now are right? That is one kind of arrangement and this is another. Now tell me the time from the clock?”

“It is 6 30.”

“See, you are still able to read the time. But you feel a little odd about this clock. Quite understandable. For hundreds of years, the numerals in a clock have been arranged in a particular fashion. In fact that arrangement gave raise to the word clock-wise and anti-clock wise. So this is an anti-clock-wise clock. But it still shows time and is no less a clock.”

“I get it.”

“In the same way you will meet some people in the world who might not conform to the conventional pattern. That doesn’t make them defective. It only makes them different. And so long as they do their work, as the clock tells the time, we have no business to mess up with them. We should not only live but also let them live.

Now in Latha, Shalini was now seeing a live, human anti-clockwise clock. Thanks to her father, she now had the right attitude. It was not one of condescension, not even of compassion, but of understanding.

“Latha, I admire your candour. First never, ever be ashamed of yourself. It is your life and you have every right to live it in your terms. As long as what you do is not hurtful to others, no one has any business to interfere with what you do in your life.”

“Like you, I am also kind of lost in my search for my identity. But at least in your case I can clearly see the way ahead. Give me some time, girl. But you need to promise me that you will never attempt anything foolish any more.”

Latha expected some kind of reprimand , some preaching, some well-meant kindness, or a round of advice. She never dreamed that another human being in this world would understand her as anyone else than a pervert. So when she heard Shalini’s words, she buried her face in Shalini's lap and burst into tears.

Latha’s problems made Shalini forget her loneliness for the next three months. She Googled the name of a woman psychologist, who specialised and counselled on same-sex relationships. She took Latha to her. After six bi-weekly sessions with her, Latha became lively again. She even started smiling and talking happily. Shalini was pleased.

The next process was the most difficult. To meet with the parents of the girls. Shalini flew to Pune to meet Natasha’s parents. They were shocked, to say the least. But after a few days of persuasion they ultimately relented. They realised that it was more practical to relent and accept, than decry and denounce.

Latha’s parents were a lot tougher. What their girl had done was nothing short of a scandal. Shalini told them that if they did not consent, Latha was sure to kill herself.

She made it clear to them if Latha was to be married to a man against her will, the marriage would fail eventually and Latha would return home devastated, condemned to live the life of a single woman for the rest of her life.And there was a good chance that history would repeat itself. She might probably have a affair with a woman again, or attempt suicide again. Latha's parents finally saw sense.

Finally they said that Latha was free to live the life of her chossing in any place other than that city. They would tell the outside world that Latha was working somewhere up north. And that she would have no connection to that family. Latha accepted the deal with a heavy heart.

The Latha-Natasha marriage was one of the earliest same-sex marriages under the newly amended law in India. Shalini was there at the Registrar’s office to sign as a witness. Shalini gifted the Rs.158000 necklace to Latha on the occasion.

Shalini returned to an empty home after seeing off Latha and Natasha at the airport. They were flying to Mumbai where they had landed in good jobs and were about to start their lives afresh there.

In a way Shalini admired Latha. She did not succumb to the parental pressures to live a conventional life. Like Shalini, Latha was also in search of her identity.

But any day, Latha’s search was far more furious than Shalini’s. Latha was determined to the point of desperation. She was prepared to even lose her life. She remembered a line in Eric Segal’s novel where a Professor character spoke of Homer’s epic, Odyssey.

The hero of the epic, Odysseus, is offered a life in heavan by a georgeous nymph. That meant that he would be eternally young and could have that girl for all time to come. But still he rejects that offer to go back to earth, to his middle-aged wife, Penelope. He was after all not interested in living for ever, not even living young for ever.

“Here’s the quintessential message of Odyssey. Odysseus forsakes immortality for identity.”

Yes, ultimately one’s identity was more important than one’s life. And only when one kept her identity intact would one be capable of authentic love.

Ironically by risking her life, Latha had found its meaning. Her search for her identity had had a very happy ending. Will my search also have a similar ending, Shalini mused.

She was idly browsing a womans magazine. She always checked out the personal ads section of that magazine, as that always revealed a lot about people.

There was a catchy ad in a box:

“Wanted female companion of any age for a handsome man of 50 - healthy, well-placed and without commitments. Respond to….”

Well, Shalini was not going to respond to that weird advertisement. But she had something weirder in her mind.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri May 03, 2013 3:22 pm

SHE - 12

A sense of loneliness and emptiness filled Shalini as she saw Latha and Natasha going off for security check in the airport. Though her heart could only rejoice and pray for them, she felt a bit left out and longed for some companionship. Jaggi and even Rishi pervaded her mind.

To rein in her thoughts, she leafed through a glossy magazine when a catchy ad in the personal ads section captured her undivided attention .

“Wanted female companion of any age for a handsome man of 50 healthy, well-placed and without commitments. Respond to….”

Well, Shalini was not going to respond to that weird advertisement. But she had something weirder in her mind.

Yes, she was going to advertise for relationship. It was not exactly the wisest decision taken by her.She was not sure if her father would have been proud or even tolerant of her, if she had ever done this while he were round. But she wanted to try every thing while the going was still good.

Two weeks later the magazine carried an even more rivetting ad.

“Thirty year old woman wants a male companion. Initially for a live-in relationship, eventually for something permanent and committed. Respond to…..

Shalini’s mail box was flooded with responses from all over the country. Spammed was more the word. For the sake of curiousity, to satisfy the auditor in her, she counted them patiently – 2238 in all.

My God! Do that many men read a woman’s magazine? And are there so many men desperate for female company?

But very predictably, 95% of the applications were worthless. They were from gigolos, self-styled studs and males who had nothing but sex in their leering minds - day or night, rain or shine. She shortlisted twenty applications for a more detailed scrutiny.

As she was sorting the mails she found one gaudy envelope which definitely was not in response to the ad. It was in cream and red with tassles and glitter, surely an invitation.

She thought it might was from somebody known to her father. Or from a former colleague. And then she looked at the from address. She was puzzled. It was from her ex father-in-law, the Captain. But what could be the occasion?

Rishi’s marriage to his second cousin from the village had been more than three years ago. Had Rishi divorced that woman? There was a glee in her heart, a tad wicked, which persisted till she pried open the invitation and read it. Her face fell. And then she frowned seeing a ‘Captainism’ aimed at her.

Shalini had not forgotten the Captainism printed on Rishi’s wedding invitation. ‘At times education can be a reason for one’s downfall.’

At that time it was like a pin-prick, which vested her with the courage to accept Jaggi’s live-in proposal. But this time the Captainism printed on the card caused a dull ache in her heart.

While the earlier one activated her, this one paralysed her. She was angry earlier; but now sad, terribly sad. And she missed her father, her mother and even missed Jaggi.

She read the Captainism for the hundredth time. “A woman who is not a mother is not a full woman.” It was simple to the point of a truism and sadly only served to revealed the brusque Captain’s lack of proper non-military education and his poor command over the language. But still it hurt. Especially so because of the subject matter of that invitation.

The invitation was for the naming ceremony of Rishi’s second child, a baby girl. The invitation carried a photo of the baby- cute with dark curls and limpid black eyes.

She could gather from that invitation that Rishi had managed to beget two children within a span of three years and that the first one was a boy, the second a girl.

Shalini now had a feeling that the world was racing past her in full speed letting her stagnate at the same place. She wryly felt that even if she had to stay in the same place, she would have to get her act together and move faster.

She took a second longing look at the baby and tossed the invitation away and trying to focus on the job at hand – a job that was at once pleasant and unenviable, to choose her future live-in partner from among the twenty most eligible aspirants.

All the twenty appeared enticing enough. ‘I need to know them a little more to decide.’ She drafted a simple reply. “Thank you for your response. Let us get to know each other better before we commit on any relationship.” Then she described her past in not so flattering terms.

She also enclosed her picture- one in which she had too much make-up and one which which did not do justice to her natural, great looks. She did not say anything about her wealth.

She deliberately chose this ploy to fob off those who were in for money, those for some casual sex or those who were not courageous enough to accept her as she was.

Predictably sixteen of the twenty backed out citing some lame excuses.

The last four who survived it all had to be good. One was an upcoming architect in the city. Another was a software engineer who had specialised on embedded systems and was much in demand. The third suitor was thirteen years elder to her. The fourth was an Economics Professor, who had recently divorced his wife.

How to decide among this four?

She recalled a recruitment process back in the company when she worked with Jaggi. It was for the post of Deputy Manager-Accounts. Two candidates, a lady and a bloke, were equally qualified and did equally well in the interview. Shalini was handling the entire process. She reported her findings to Jaggi.

“J, I don’t know how to decide. We might as well spin a coin and let it decide for us. Or hold a seance and summon some spirits--”

The candidates were still waiting in another room.

“We have better methods than that. Will you please call them in?”

“Listen guys. We still cant decide who should be hired. My suggestion is that you both take two days off from your current job and work for us. We will pay you at the rate of your current salary.”

The candidates agreed. The girl worked for the first two days, and the guy for the next two. After four days, the decision was fairly easy. Though the boy was brilliant he had severe attitude problems which was brought out in the way he interacted with his colleagues.

What the interview process could not unearth, what the education system could not reform or even point out, two days of working with people, two days of relating to other people in the organisation revealed beyond doubt. The girl was hired.

‘Jaggi, I miss you. You are in the wrong. You made it impossible for me to continue with the relationship. You cheated on me. You bastard, you rake, you cheated on me while I trusted you. But still I miss you.’

Shalini now decided to move on with the shortlisted four to find out who would suit her best. For a moment she stopped to think. ‘Is this not a kind of moral depravity? Am I lusting for male company?

Is it morally all right to move with the four guys at the same time and then drop three of them like hot potatoes?’

Shalini recalled a discussion on morality with her father. His advice had always been practical and helpful in difficult times. He had not read a single book on morality and ethics; but his view on the subject would make a wonderful, probably the first ever useful book on the subject.

“Shalu, to find out whether an act is morally right or not, you need not have to read the religious scriptures or remember social conventions. I have a two-way test.

“One,will it hurt others? Two, will it in any way hinder your giving your very best to this world?’ If an act passes both the tests then it is moral, though your religion may cry hoarse over its immorality. And if it fails even one of the tests, then it is immoral, even if it is sanctioned by the holiest of the Gospels.

“Thus, to me, watching Television for four hours in a day is an act of immorality, as it prevents you from giving your best. Working for 15 hours a day is an act of immorality, as it hurts your family.

“A Government official who proclaims that he is honest and beyond corruption but sits on an important file for months on end without deciding one way or other is immoral.

“Sex between consenting adults is not immoral provided none of the adults have a commited relationship otherwise. But continuous obsession with sex even if it be with your spouse is immoral because the obsession prevents the person from giving his best.

“Of course life often throws some complex situations which may defy this simple test. But if you are honest to yourself, I am sure, you can lead a hassle-free life without carrying any unnecessary guilt.”

‘Oh, my dearest Dad. I should be born your mother in my future birth and try to give at least a part of what you gave me in this life.’

She typed a mail to all the four aspirants – the architect, the software engineer, the businessman and the Professor – asking for a meeting with them.

In just a single meeting she was able to reject three out of four. The architect looked very flamboyant and came to the meeting dressed in full suit, silken tie, gold cuff links and reeking of an expensive imported perfume. It did not took long for Shalini to find out: a) the man was phony and b) that he could never relax.

Soon after the introduction and exchange of pleasantries he started talking about all the high-rise buildings in the city he had designed. He even doled out information on the fees he earned for every project. Shalini had never been comfortable with people who revealed their income and financial position at every opportune moment.

To cap it all, the architect was too preoccupied in projecting himself that he did not even make a modest attempt to know Shalini as a person.

He ordered food for Shalini without even caring to ask her what she wanted. Shalini sat through the hour-long meeting only because she called for it. When they parted she vowed to herself that she should never meet this man again in her life.

The Economics Professor was too preoccupied in academics. When Shalini asked him aboutthe subject of his Doctoral dissertation, he started a lecture on that, which Shalini did not know how to stop. He even drew some graphs on the paper napkins. ‘No wonder your wife has divorced you’ thought Shalini. She even pitied his students.

Her decision regarding the software engineer was quite easy. She could not meet him at all. He was earning at the top of the market. But he was travelling for more than 20 days in a month.

He was so busy that he could not even come for the meeting. Shalini changed the date and venue thrice, but still he could not make it. And to top it all, the guy suggested a video-conferencing session for their first meeting.

“You can never imagine, how busy I am” he repeated almost in all his mails. ‘Thanks for making me know that’ thought Shalini and ticked him off.

The last person she met was the businessman. Raj Metha. Raj was in his forties. His wife had died a year ago. He had a son and a daughter and both were in the US. The daughter was married and the son was working in San Jose as a software engineer.

Raj was an inherently happy man; but he was not shallow like most others in that category. He had a flourishing business in food grains. He was a merchant trader, he knew his limitations and never pushed beyond that.

When Shalini arrived at the Sheraton lobby five minutes before the agreed time, Raj was waiting for her.

Shalini looked at him. He looked his full age of 43 years and 7 months. He was of wheatish complexion, slightly more than average height with mild obesity. In spite of his skilful attempts to conceal his paunch, his prosperity was conspicous.

But with a smiling face and a relaxed appearance, the paunch only served to endear him even more.

They shook hands and adjourned to the table for two booked by Shalini.

In the first few minutes Shalini found out that Raj loved life and was a natural conversationalist. He did not talk too much, or too little. He let the conversation flow in its natural way.

He was the first among the shortlisted four who showed a very genuine interest in knowing about Shalini. Without inquisitive questions he asked about her life. He listened to her and was not in a hurry to offer off-the-cuff solutions or snap judgments.

Shalini was impressed. When he started telling about his life, there was neither exaggeration nor underplaying. He was a graduate but did not set much store by education. He was a second generation businessman who knew his trade like the palm of one’s hand. He did not boast like the software engineers or industrial barons that he worked for fourteen hours a day, 8 days a week.

“Shalini I do honest, smart work for about 3 hours a day, six days a week. I have a large office and have loads of staff to carry out my plans. My work is just thinking and planning. And making crucial decisions.

“I earn enough, pay my taxes and have no complaints whatsoever. If I were to start my life again from the scratch I would love to travel the same route.”

“I lost my wife last year. My children have flown away from the nest. I can't bear to be lonely. I don’t want to risk a marriage. So I was fascinated by your live-in proposal.

“You see Shalini to lose one’s wife at my age is cruel. I simply cannot be all alone. It is not possible. I am not sure whether my children would welcome this. But even if they object it doesn’t matter. It’s my life and I want to live it on my terms.”

Shalini felt like crying. When her mother died her father was just about 50 and was in the pink of his health. But the thought of remarrying never crossed Shiva’s mind. On her mother’s first death anniversary, at the end of some religious ceremonies, an elderly relative broached the subject of remarriage.

The relative warned Shiva that he would be very lonely as his daughter was bound to leave the house soon after her marriage.

“I will be alone but not lonely. Lakshmi is always with me. Till her death she was a little away from me; but after that she is now fully in my heart. With a heart full of Lakshmi, it is obscene to approach another woman.”

‘Dad, will there ever be man like you in this world? Why did you leave me alone, Dad?‘

“I am sorry Raj, something has fallen into my eyes.” Shalini had to explain her tears to the man.

Four meetings and six weeks later Shalini and Raj Metha decided to settle into a live-in relationship. It was not exactly a live-in. For they both thought that it was too early to hurry up with decisions regarding logistics.

To start with they would continue to live in their respective places – Shalini in her father’s palatial house, and Raj Metha in his deluxe apartment in Velachery. But they would meet quite often and once they got to know each other they will be living together alternatively in both the houses. They agreed to review the arrangement after two years.

Shalini started her third innings in life and Raj, his second. Shalini could not help but compare the men in her life. Raj was not as as fast or as intelligent as Jaggi. He spoke slowly and his grasp was also limited.

But he had formidable native intelligence which even his business rivals admired. He was more expressive than Rishi or Jaggi. But expressive in his own way. Raj was plain in looks and manner. But there was an openness and directness in his manner, an unspoken candour and acceptance that made him an affable person.

Whatever Raj had revealed about his work was true. He went out at 10 and was back for lunch. He never talked about his work or office while he was home. He took calls in the evening for an hour and in the night spent an hour on the net tracking grain prices all over the world.

He knew more details about the hurricanes in the US than someone working for the US Met Office. Hurricanes led to a raise in the prices of grains a few months later. He also speculated on commodity futures. But always limited his losses.

If making money were to be the only criterion to measure a man’s intelligence then Raj would be the smartest; for he made ten times more than many chartered accountants, Shalini knew. And Raj made it in three hours while they could not do that in fourteen hours-work-days.

But what endeared Raj to Shalini was his capacity to listen. Unlike most businessmen, Raj was a born listener. When Shalini talked, he would listen as if there was no other work in the world. And he never hurried with his own opinions. He let her have her say and her way too.

In bed, Raj was not as passionate as Jaggi. But nor was his love-making as insipid as
as that of Rishi. He was soft and tender and showered his love on Shalini. He did not overpower Shalini with his passion or strength, but at the same time gave in to her girlish fancies and feminine desires. He put her first when they were in bed.

Raj gifted Shaini an exquisite diamond necklace on her thirty-third birthday. They had a brief holiday in Dubai to celebrate the event.

For the second time in her life, Shalini felt very relaxed. After all, she had found her soul-mate. And for that wonderful discovery she had to suffer a dysfunctional marriage with Rishi and had to undergo the trauma of Jaggi cheating on her. But even then she thought that the price she paid was not high; because she had found a wonderful, sensitive, balanced human being.

Raj was not as handsome as Rishi; nor was he half as passionate as Jaggi. But he had a very high overall score over the other two.

Shalini wanted to talk to Raj about permanence in their relationship. What if Raj refused? Or what if he said, let us part as friends? She was reluctant to rock the boat which was sailing smoothly aided by a favourable wind.

She hesitated; but Destiny, true to its nature, did not hesitate to intervene, this time in a very cruel way.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue May 07, 2013 3:18 pm

SHE - 13

Shalini wanted to broach the subject of permanence in their relationship to Raj. But she hesitated. What if Raj refused? Or what if he brushed her aside breezily in typical male fashion with a non commital, let's part as friends?

She was reluctant to rock the boat which was sailing smoothly on the still waters of deep love aided by the favourable wind of understanding.

Shalini continuously brooded over the matter of a committed relationship. She had even started rehearsing her proposal to Raj.

They were in Shalini's house that night. Raj had just made love to her and Shalini was about to doze off in a satiated slumber when Raj whispered in her years: "Will you marry me, Shal?"

Happiness exploded through each of her nerve-endings for the second time in an hour. She could not contain herself. The relief she felt in her heart was so full, so great, that she sprang up on Raj and smothered his face with her passionate kisses.

In between those kisses she did not forget to say "yes" a hundred times. And like teenage lovers Raj and Shalini clung to each other tightly and spoke of one trivial matter after another till the wee hours of the morning.

Raj left the place after breakfast. In her euphoria, Shalini could not do anything. She lounged in her bed dreaming of many things.

She was not exactly sleeping; but she was in a state of bliss; a sense of peace filled up her mind and suddenly she felt that this world was a really wonderful place to live in.

The events of the day seemed to reflect the happiness and tranquility of her mind.

Around 12 noon her Blackberry flashed an unknown international number. She wanted to identify the caller but she could not as only the words "Call" flashed on her screen.

"Shalini" she identified herself apprehensively.


There was a woman at the other end. She sounded young and hesitant and stuck for words. Apart from saying 'Oh' a few times she did not say anything.

Any other day Shalni would have either disconnected or shouted at her. But today Shalini was so patient that she decided to wait till the caller recovered from a temporary speech impairment.

She asked with a smile, "May I know who is calling?"

The caller's answer was totally unrelated to Shalini's question.

"You know something, I am so happy today, that I don't know what to say."

What happened to this world? This seemed to be one sweet and splendid day. Everybody was to drunk in happiness Shalini mused with a benevolent smile.

After a long moment the caller managed herself and started to speak coherently.

"I am very sorry…. How do I call you? Even that I do not know. But…"

"First tell me your name."

"Oh, I am sorry again. I'm Priya. Priya Bhansali. I am calling from Seattle. I am Raj Metha's daughter.


Now it was Shalini's turn to remain speechless. Shalini did not know how to relate to this girl. Raj had talked about his son and daughter. The girl was elder. She was married to a software engineer and was happily settled in the US.

Shalini was not clear how the girl would view her. She had learnt from her psychologist friend that girls tend to be more jealous of their father's women friends, at times even more than their mothers.

"Hello.. hello….."

Priya was hollering. She probably thought that the connection was shaky. Shalini noted that she had a strong North indian accent tinged with a Yankee twang.

Shalini composed herself and responded.

"Hello, let's first settle this issue. How should I address you?"

Shalini did not know what to say.

The girl continued enthusiastically.

"Will you please consider my suggestion?"

" "
"When we two are alone all by ourselves, please let me call you Ma. You know my Mom died years ago. Ever since I never had the mind to call anybody else Ma. But as I hear my Dad talking about you, my mind is so full of love for you, that I want to call you the same way I called my Mom.

“I wont do that in the presence of others. You know I have put on a lot of weight now, though I am hardly 22. I don't want people to think that you are old because a moti aurath calls you Ma."

Shalini was moved. Clearing her throat she now spoke clearly, "I am very happy and proud, Priya. Call me Ma, anytime you want. I neither care about my age nor about people thinking about my age."

"Ok, Ma. First things first. How am I going to thank you?"

"For what?"

"For giving so much happiness to my Dad. For making him young and vibrant again.For restoring a smile back in his voice and heart. You know, before you came into his life, I would hesitate to call him because he always sounded lonely and defeated. Now he is really bubbling with joy and I know you are the reason. I have never seen him this happy after my mother's death."

Shalini had to take efforts to hide her tears.

"And I am thrilled to hear that you are getting married soon. We have already decided to fly down to India for the occasion."

"Thank you, Priya. I would really love to meet you"

"You are most welcome, Ma."

They spoke for another half an hour before Priya reluctantly disconnected.

Before the call came Shalini thought that that was the happiest time of her life and there was no way she could be happier. But the words of love coming from Raj's daughter proved her wrong.

She thought she was going to burst of happiness. Suddenly she felt ready to talk to Raj about having a baby. Now she was sure that their child would be welcomed not only by raj, but also by his older children. A sudden sense of belonging and family strength enveloped her warmly like a cosy blanket on a cold night.

Soon after that Raj called her. With a voice choked in ecstasy she talked about Priya's call.

"How are you placed this evening, Shal? Can you drive down to the farm house, let's say, sevennish? We need to talk a lot."

"Sure, Raj, sure. Will be there by seven."

Raj's invitation to farmhouse meant only one thing. Celebration.

Shalini wanted to take part in that whole heartedly. She also wanted to cook a special dinner for him. She decided the menu and drew a shopping list. And she went to shopping herself at her favourite boutique food-shop.

The only discordant note of the day happened there. Shalini was standing in the queue before the billing counter when she felt a wizened hand on her shoulders.

"Shalini Madam, how are you? Nice to see you after a long time."

It was the live-in maid at the Captain's house. Shalini had always been kind to her and used to tip her generously every now and then.

Shalini did not want to talk to her. She did not want to snoop on her ex-husband's house for sure. But when the maid started pouring out, she could not resist her temptation to listen to her.

"Rishi saab always fights with his wife. That lady also fights. And you know, she fights like us, maids. Using foul language and calling names. Atrocious, Madam."

Was Shalini happy hearing that? She was not very sure.

The maid went on like that for the next ten minutes. Shalini noticed the time and told her that she had to go.

What the maid said as she walked away disturbed Shalini a lot.

"But Shalini Madam, the kids are lovely. Adhitya and Ak****ha are the names. You simply lose your sense of time playing with them. I have never seen such nice kids, Madam."

The maid walked away unconscious of the storm she had created in Shalini's mind. Shalini suddenly wanted to become a mother of lovely kids. But will that be possible, now, at this age? Raj was 45 plus, and she, 34.

Why not? Now that I am happy, and Raj's happy, why not we raise a family now? Shalini made a mental note to talk to Raj about that in the evening.

Shalini reached the farm house a few minutes to six, leaving her enough time to cook the special dinner she had been planning since morning. She had come to the farm house a few times before.

She was always amazed at that sprawling structure which so perfectly jelled with lush greenery which surrounded it on all sides. Even the drive-way was green with imported Korean grass.

It was evident that Raj had made the architect earn his fees the hard way. The house was a perfect circular structure whose outer walls were built in crude, unformed rocks, giving the house an appearance of a cave.

Creepers sprang up on the stone walls from all sides making the viewer wonder whether the house naturally grew out from the field. She got down from the car and spent a minute taking in the beauty of the surroundings.

She then walked straight into the kitchen. The cook was waiting for her, as she had already called him up about her arrival.

“Shal dear, I want to hear your plans the marriage."

They were seated in comfortable rattan chairs in the small flower garden in the middle of the farm. Shalini was drinking in the beauty of a bed of dark red roses that was near her chair. Raj had come there around 7 and was now nursing a can of chilled Heineken.

"Raj I would prefer a simple ceremony at a temple of your choice. Register the marriage and throw up a party for about a hundred friends."

Raj thought for a while before responding to her.

"Simple marriage is okay. Let's have a hundred guests for the marriage. And let the reception party be a big affair. I know Shal, that this city has not grown enough to understand live-ins.

“We are still looked down as people living in sin. Many people are talking behind our backs. Not that I care, but let our reception be a massive PR exercise so that the society clears our names.

"And Shal, I want you to go on a shopping spree. Buy the best of dresses, jewels, gadgets, whatever. Choose some excellent masseurs and beauty parlours and give your lovely body the best relaxing and beautifyting treatemnt.I am taking off two weeks from work. We'll spend most of the time shopping together."

Shalini wanted to protest; but Raj signalled her to be quiet and continued.

"Shopping is one of the genuine pleasures of having money, provided it is within one's means. I thought hard about giving a marriage gift to you. A diamond necklace, a painting, or a holiday in Venice...

“Then I had a flash. Instead of all these I will give you an unlimited shopping budget. Please Shal, accept my gift. I know you are wealthy, and can easily afford to do the shopping with your money.

“But I will be very happy if you shop with my money. I will give you an Add on credit card and a book of blank, signed cheque leaves. Use it to the hilt, dear. If you want more, I'll transfer money from my other accounts."

Shalini was rendered speechless at this sudden munificence.

"One lesson I have learnt in life is that money is not wealth. Money can be converted into wealth if you spend it in a way to give you happiness. And till that happens, money is just some electronic impulse lying in some central database in some bank. Having a nice place to live in, wearing the finest dresses and jewels, eating the finest foods, these are all the uses of wealth. So let's put my wealth to its best use."

In that moment of love and happiness Shalini did not have the words to speak her mind. She actually wanted to tell him that they should raise a family. She also wanted to assure Raj, that she would see to it, that the child did not give raise to any complications.

She would tell him that she would give her wealth to the child, while Raj could leave his to his two children. But she did not have the heart to talk about that when Raj was so caring and so generous. She knew that there would be other intimate occasions.

Husbands fall into many classes, when it comes to their wives' shopping. Some do not mind their wives' shopping.

Some just tolerate it; many just silently finance it, but physically keep away; some participate in shopping exercise only to ensure that their wives stay within the limits set by them; but invariably all are irritated deep down and only a few are capable of cleverly hiding their irritation and putting up a brave face.

Raj Metha was a class in himself in that category. He not only actively participated in Shalini's shopping, but also enthusiastically supported her by finding out the best stores and deals.

Shalini wanted to buy authentic Kancheepuram silk sarees. She decided to go to Kancheepuram for a day. Raj told her with an indulgent smile, that it was a mistaken view to which many a woman subscribed - to think that genuine Kancheepuram sarees are available only in Kancheepuram.

"My contact there tells me that they do sell a lot of Aaranis and Dharmavarams there. If you don't mind, lady, I'll take you to my friend, a saree designer in T.Nagar. I shall mail him your picture and ask him to do a dozen designs fo you. We can then have the designs we choose converted into real sarees. Shall we go there this Monday?"

Shalini was floored.She had never had the idea of customised sarees.

"You deserve nothing less than a designer saree, dear."
Raj declared with his typical flourish.

That was another novel experience for her. The designer, a bearded lean man in his late forties, had designed ten sarees for her. He had an eclectic mix of traditional temple designs that were worn only by Queens.

And he had modern sarees with crystal work done extensively on the pallu. Jacquards, light and shade, tissue silk,embroidery with pearls and golden thread- Shalini realised she was just a woman when she saw those exquisite sarees.

Using computer graphics he had draped Shalini's photograph with the sarees designed by him.

Shalini was spared from the eternal dilemma of a saree-shopper,

"Yeah, this is gorgeous. But how will I look in this?" He had blown up her picture to life size and projected them on a screen using a LCD projector.

The designer had factored in her height, weight and complexion into his designs.he had even designed the cholis for each. While for one it was a fully covered old fashioned blouse, for another he had an off shoulder piece that accentuated her lovely bone structure.

Shalini was awestruck.

Each saree was priced in the range of thirty to forty thousand rupees; but that included the design charges as well. Shalini did not know what to choose. The problem was actually in deciding what to reject. Raj solved the problem in his own way.

"We'll take all the ten, Varadan. I don't want anybody else to wear the sarees designed for my lovely wife."

Shalini's mind was so soaked in happiness that her thanks was barely audible.

Raj's mastermind came out even more clearly when they wanted to shop for jewels. Shalini wanted to do that in T.Nagar where there were a few prominent names.

"Those are not your class, dear. You get the best deals in jewels and diamonds and even the best designs, not in Chennai, but…"

"In Mumbai."

"Wrong; in Kumbakonam-Tanjore belt. I have a whole lot of friends there. I have already started talking to them. I have collected more than 100 pictures for various items of jewellery – bangles, necklaces, chains, bracelets, ear-rings, studs, nose-rings – you name it you have it. Why don't you take a look at them, Shal? We shall go over there this week-end to choose."

They drove down to Kumbakonam on a Friday afternoon. They checked in to a resort on the ouirts of the ancient town around nine in the night.

Shalini's happiness had been so full that there was a mild fear in the corner of her mind whether all these things are but a vivid dream happening on a hot summer night. And the dream might end any time.

After a very light dinner served in their room, they went to sleep. They had a busy schedule the following morning – visiting the top six jewellers of the town to choose jewellery for Shalini's marriage.

For the first time in years, especially since she had inserted the saucy ad in the glossy asking for a live in partner, Shalini’s mind was at ease. She felt safe to talk to Raj about starting a family.

Above all, she finally felt vindicated. She knew that if Shiva had been alive now, he would have approved and also blessed her union with Raj and the controversial decisions she had made in her live in arrangements. Shalini felt that she had not betrayed her parents' honour and their upbringing. She had proved herself capable of making proper life decisions - ones they could be proud of.

Shalini and Raj spoke about the happy life they were going to live together. Shalini wanted to open the subject of having a child; but still was not sure. Not that she was afraid; but she did not want Raj to feel even a mild discomfort on any account. She postponed the discussion to a later day, preferably after their marriage.

Raj was talking about the marriage feast. Being a connoisseur of good food, he had alreadly finalised on the catering contractor and was now discussing the menu with Shalini. he had decided on setting up shamianas in the lawn, with each tent serving a different cuisine.

As he was talking his voice became low, and suddenly it turned into a whisper. Shalini heard a sound of a small hiccup coming from him. Then there was silence. Total, complete,absolute silence, which lasted for a few minutes.

Shalini's scream was heard two floors below.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri May 10, 2013 3:38 pm

SHE - 14

Raj and Shalini were in the resort on the ouirts of Kumbakonam. They were talking about so many things that night.

As Raj was talking his voice became low, and suddenly it turned into a whisper. Shalini heard a sound of a small hiccup coming from him. Then there was silence. Total, complete,absolute silence, which lasted for a few minutes. Then Shalini’s scream was heard two floors below.

Shalini was sitting in their resort room. Her tears had completely dried up. And if there were tears to shed, she did not have any strength left in her body to cry. She was staring at a distance lost in thought. She felt completely lost as her only hold in life, her future husband, her live-in partner, her own dear Raj had died just like that.

There was no sign, no warning, nothing. Only the previous month Shalini had accompanied Raj for a master health check-up at Appollo. The day-long investigation revealed nothing.

The Doctor had only issued a very mild warning that Raj was bound to be a diabetic sooner or later, as the disease ran into his family. Even that was just a remote possibility, the Doctor said.

But how did this happen? Shalini’s smile born out of utter despair was a result of her thinking about the irony of fate. Only a few days before she was in the height of happiness.

She thought at that time, that everything was just a dream or a fantasy. And now pushed to the other extreme, she thought that even this was a dream – the worst nightmare that could ever happen to her.

It was a day after Raj Metha’s death. Shalini had informed his daughter and son. They were coming the next day. When Priya heard the news she let out a wail which shocked Shalini even more. Once the news was conveyed, Shalini did not have anything to say. Both the women were sobbing non-stop.

After Priya Bansali spoke to her for the first time, Shalini felt very happy. After being alone for so long a time, she was not only going to have a husband, but also a friend in Priya. They bonded so naturally, that Shalini even thought, that in some previous birth, they should have been sisters.

But now there was no scope for any kind of relationship with Priya. Yes, she might talk to her once in a while. Yes, they might cry over each other’s shoulders. Yes, the common grief might create some kind of a bonding. But that relationship simply did not have any future.

The one person who was to be the bridge of love between the two women was not there anymore. Priya would just remain a contact for Shalini. And so would Shalini be for Priya. Nothing more.

Shalini was now all alone for the third time in her life. The first time was immediately after her divorce. At that time there was some expectation, some hope, and even some mild exhilaration at the new-found freedom.

The second time she was alone was after Jaggi went away. She was not sure of herself at that time though she could steer her life well. And it was only because of her boldness and ingenuity did she find a man of golden heart – the one and only Raj Metha. Despite her best efforts to control it, a sob escaped from her mouth.

She was also afraid that her search for her identity or love or happiness, whatever it is, might even destroy her. Shalini had the same feeling of wretchedness that engulfed her when her father died all of a sudden five years ago. If only her father had been alive….. Shalini thought for a while.

She would abandon her search for her identity and live with him and would have brought happiness and relief to him in his old age. She would have even been a nurse to him, if he fell sick. She would have taken care of him, not as his daughter, but like his mother. Her life was somehow full of these ‘would have been’s.

She was in the depths of despair and thought with a tinge of optimism that it could not go any worse. But it did go.

Shalini’s screams that day woke up all the guests who were staying in the resort. The Manager also came running. There was a Doctor among the guests who examined Raj’s eyes and pronounced him dead.

Some North Indian ladies consoled Shalini and was with her for the whole night. The Manager told her that he had no other option than to call the Police.

An Inspector Of Police and two constables came late in the night. The Inspector was very polite and courteous to Shalini. He asked the usual questions and then sent the body for autopsy. Shalini begged the Inspector to spare Raj from all these cruelty.

The Inspector said in a firm voice that the death was of a healthy man and had happened in a public place. In her own interest it would be better to have the doubts cleared rather than having some complications later. Shalini relented.

The Inspector advised her to extend her stay for a few days to collect Raj’s body.

The phone in her room rang. Shalini’s hello was not even audible at the other end. She cleared her throat several times before she could bring herself to speak. The voice on the other end had the condescending tone of a professional.

“Am I talking to Mrs Shalini?”



Shalini said yes a lot more louder now.

“I am sorry I had to shout. I thought that the phone line was bad.”

“It’s okay.”

“My name is Shylendar. Dr.Shylender.”

“ “

“Can you please give me your mobile number? This line is not secure.”

Shalini gave her number.

Soon her mobile rang.

“I am sorry to hear what happened to Mr.Raj Metha. But now you are in trouble, deep trouble.”

“Me? Why?”

“Ok, just listen to me carefully. You need to act pretty fast. My friend, a Doctor, works for the Government hospital here. I was with him yesterday when he did the autopsy.

“I hate to tell you this. Mr. Raj has been poisoned to death. We found some lethal substances in his intestine. My friend was not very sure. So he called another Doctor and they are having a look at it now.”

Shalini was too shocked to respond.

“The police has been informed of this. They are now waiting for the post-mortem report. I heard that the Inspector is planning to arrest you first thing in the morning.”

“Me? What for?”

“As the primary suspect, for murdering Raj Metha. Please listen. I am not sure how they will treat you here in this town. You might be harrassed. Anything might happen. So I suggest that you go to Chennai immediately.

“Call up your lawyer at Chennai and ask him to move for an anticipatory bail. Even if they accuse you, you can stay out and conduct the case. You should have a good lawyer. But if they arrest you here, it might be a scandal. Who knows, they may even resort to third degree methods.”

Shalini was speechless.

“If I am in your place, I would leave the place in next ten minutes. Don’t bother to check out. Don’t take your baggage. Just take the valuables in an overnight bag and flee from here as fast as you can.”

Shalini’s thank you was not heard at the other end.

“ I will get in touch with you in three, four days.”

Shalini was confused. Should she run away from the place as a fugitive? After all she did not do anything wrong. Then why should she run from the hands of law? But coming to think of it Doctor’s advice was practical. She was not going to run away from the law permanently.

She was not going to run away from the country like the Hawala Brokers whose deals have been exposed by the Police. She was going to fight the battle, no doubt. What she was going to do was just shift the scene of the battle to her homeground. Anyday playing in the homeground is a safer strategy.

Human mind works in very strange ways. Till the call came Shalini was paralysed in grief and shock. Now this was a new dimension to the problem. Whatever may be the consequences, this new information did serve to alleviate her grief. Self-preservation is the most fundamental human urge and when activated it drew resources from all the quarters.

Shalini saw the time. It was around 9 PM. The activities in the lobby would cease in an hour. She first thought of leaving the hotel after that. Then she thought otherwise. ‘Contrary-thinking’ was a lesson she learnt in managing her investments.

While the entire market would flock in one direction she would gauge the route and would go in the opposite direction. Invariably she made huge gains with that strategy. She was surprised to find her mind working very fast. She was going to leave the resort right now.

She abandoned the dresses and the suit-cases. She took the valuables. Her wallet, Raj’s wallet, their credit cards, her and Raj’s mobile phones alone constituted her luggage. She removed the contents of her handbag and stuffed these things into it.

She did not wash her face or arrange her dishevelled hair. She did not even change her dress.

As she handed over the keys at the reception, she told the man there that she had been called by the Inspector for another round of questioning. She also asked him if she can return around 11 PM. Would there be anybody in the lobby at that time? The man said he would remain awake till she came in. Shalini thanked him and left the place.

She summoned her car. She checked the fuel in the car. It was full. She gave some cash to the driver and told him that she was going to drive down herself. The driver went away with a sigh of relief.

She hit the highway around half past nine.

Shalini spent the next two years in the various courtrooms in the company of her lawyers. She was granted anticipatory bail first. And then it was cancelled on an application moved by the Police. The High Court, on her appeal, granted it again.

She came to know of the facts much later. Raj Metha had made a huge killing in the commodity futures. He had lent that money to another trader for a short term. The borrower failed to repay.

When Raj threatened to proceed against him, the man had hired professional assassins who had trailed Raj and Shalini to Kumbakonam and had poisoned Raj’s food.

Raj had ordered for naans and a panneer side dish, while Shalini went for a dosa and curd rice. This difference in their orders made it easy for the killers to isolate Raj and poison his side dishes. Had they chosen to order the same food, Shalini also might have died.

Though the investigation by her lawyers led to this inference, Shalini was in no mood to bring those killers to book. Her first priority was to defend herself and clear her charge.

The newsreporters had the field day digging about her past, her live-in relationships, her divorce and her present state. She was described in various terms ranging from damsel in distress to a murderous nymphomaniac.

When the reporters contacted Captain for his views he added fuel to the fire by bad mouthing Shalini. As if that were not enough he sent a mail to her which had nothing but, “SEE WHAT YOU HAVE LANDED YOURSELF INTO.” Written in bold red letters across a foolscap sheet of paper.

The only silver lining in the dark clouds that hung in her skies was Dr.Shylender’s support. He was there to meet her every day. He took her to the lawyers and worked hard in gathering evidence for her. Once or twice Shalini told him not to trouble himself too much. Shalini had no mind to force him out of her life at that time. Of course their relationship was purely platonic.

Shylender was a professional to the very core of his being. He organised all her meetings and took notes when they were discussing with her lawyers. He was also a good PR man.

He organised many press meets which to a large extent cleared her name. On many days they had lunch and dinner together. But neither of them had any other thought than the problem at hand.

The case dragged on for two years. Her lawyers had done a splendid job. Of course Shylender’s clear thinking and great ideas helped them form the winning strategy.

Their final arguments were quite simple and elegant. They first proved to the court that Shalini was a very intelligent woman. That was a pretty easy task as all they had to do was to produce her academic certificates and subpoena a few of her former employers and colleagues.

Shalini was first perplexed; because in most of the criminal cases the lawyers would strive hard to prove that the accused was not in a state of sound mind. Here they were taking the exactly opposite step. But the lawyers had a beautiful logic.

In order to establish the guilt, what is needed is “mens rea” – the motive. Let us assume that this smart, professoinal lady had that motive, to start with, they argued. What could be her motive? Raj Metha’s money.

But Shalini was richer than Raj Metha at the time of his death. This was also easy to prove. And the clinching argument was this. Even if Shalini had wanted to steal Raj’s money, she would have planned the murder after her marriage.

Then she could be the legal heir or at least one of the legal heirs, to his property. By killing him before marriage Shalini could not gain anything. Raj Metha’s wealth went to his son and daughter. At the time of Raj Metha’s death, Shalini had no legal relationship with him.

“Only the dullest of fools would plan to kill Raj Metha at that crucial time. But we have already established that Shalini is a highly intelligent woman. So two and two….”

The Defence Counsel sat down with a smile.

The Police Inspector failed miserably on cross examination. The Police could not produce the poison which they alleged Shalini used on Raj Metha.

The judgment came two months after Shalini’s 35 birthday. She was acquitted. The Court had passed strictures on the Police for implicating her in the case in the first place, letting the criminals go scot-free.

Shalini was not as enthusiatic as Shylender, though she felt that a heavy load had been taken off from her shoulders.

For more than two years Shalini and Shylender had been working together for the case. They were meeting each other almost every day.

Shylender’s service was selfless. He refused to take any money from her. Many times he spent money from his packet. He used his vehicle most of the time and refused her offers for reimbursement of fuel cost.

All these made Shalini think that Shylender might have something in mind. If he proposed now, well, Shalini would be only too happy to accept.

To give him the proper opportunity and the right ambience, Shalini hosted a classy dinner just for the two of them at Park Sheraton. She was sure that Shylender was going to propose to her at that time.

But unfortunately she was going through such a period in life when whatever she thought would happen for sure did not happen. And what ever she never imagined could happen, did happen.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue May 14, 2013 2:42 pm

SHE - 15

When Shalini was accused of killing her fiancee and her live-in partner Raj Metha, the only support she had in the world was Dr.Shylender. He was with her all through the period of the gruelling trial.
Shylender’s service was selfless.

Shalini was eventually freed after two years of fighting. Shalini thought Shylender might propose to her. She liked the mild-mannered Doctor who was slaving for her release. She was ready to accept, if he proposed.

To give him the proper opportunity and the right ambience, Shalini hosted a classy dinner just for the two of them at Park Sheraton. She was sure that Shylender was going to propose to her at that time.

But unfortunately she was going through such a period in life when whatever she thought would happen for sure did not happen. And what ever she never imagined could happen, did happen.

Shalini was mindlessly munching the vegetable springroll when Shylender spoke almost in a whisper.

“I am going to Africa next week. I may not come back.”

She let the half-finished springroll drop on the floor.

“But Shyl, what happened? Any problem? Tell me if I can help you in any way. Shyl, even if I give you what all I have, it will still not be enough for what you have done to me.”

“Shal, honestly, it is I who should thank you. My meeting you was the greatest turning point in my life. You were sent to me by God.”

“I don’t understand a word of what you say.”

“I was utterly selfish in helping you. That was my only salvation. But to understand that I may have to narrate the entire story.”

To an astonished Shalini, Shylender started to narrate his life-story.

Shyl was born the only son of a famous Doctor-couple in Coimbatore. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was also blessed with extraordinary intelligence. He learnt determination and hardwork from his parents.

They were turning in fourteen hours of hard, sincere medical work. They were decently rich, but fortunately, not bitten by the snake of avarice.

As a boy Shylender excelled in whatever he did. When the results of his Plus Two exams came in he was not only in the top ten ranks in the state, but was also an accomplished squash player, a state-ranked chess player and was a good singer as well. He had the unique distinction of being the only son of a Doctor couple who got the medical seat purely on merit.

He finished his basic degree in Medicine winning half a dozen gold medals. It was during his internship did he discover his passion for helping people, for working with people and taking part in their worries.

Unlike others who had to feign interest in the rustic, unsophisticated villagers who thronged the Government Hospitals, Shylender was in his element in their midst. With soft words, selfless service and a genuine caring, he soon became the hero of any ward to which he was posted for the time being.

While his colleagues opted for specialisation in cardiac surgery, nephrology, plastic surgery and others that offered a chance to mint money faster than the Government Press, Shyl opted for specialisation in general medicine.

He did not want to cut open people’s hearts ; he rather wanted to stitch the broken ones with his kind words. He opted to become a “family doctor” – an almost extinct specie in these days of corporatisation of medicine. He braved the derogatory remarks from his colleagues, “Oh, GP..” to sincerely study medicine with a real motive of serving people – which these days is as great a miracle as a cure for AIDS.

After post-graduation his colleagues flew to England and US for higher studies and further specialisation. Shylender approached a very senior Doctor, one of the very few surviving members of the specie of “family doctors” and offered to assist him in his practice. He also got an appointment in the Government Hospital

Now his days were full. He started to work from seven in the morning at the GH. He came home for lunch around 2, rested for an hour before going to the Senior Doctor’s clinic.

There he slaved till 10 in the night. He wanted to see as many patients as possible and cure as many illnesses as he could. One advantage of being a GP was that he was consulted mostly on curable, simple diseases.

When the Senior Doctor died he bequeathed his practice to Dr.Shylender. Shyl resigned his Government job and opened a clinic for the poor where he worked for almost free in the mornings. He would come to the Senior Doctor’s clinic in the evenings to consult the middle and higher income groups.

He had no time to fall in love. But when his parents suggested that he should marry a slender, beautiful commerce graduate from Chennai, he happily agreed. They honeymooned in Coorg and came back to start their life. Vijaya supported Shyl in his work.

Apart from cooking and household chores, she took care of keeping Shyl’s books of accounts, and liaising with his chartered acccountant for filing the tax returns. She also visited his clinics once in a while to suggest changes in interior decoration or patient-facilities.

Shalini was fully absorbed in Shylender’s narration. She was even mildly jealous of Vijaya.

‘For some people life comes on a plate neatly packed, without any complications. They need to just open the pack, plug and play.

‘But in my case…… Why should I become so restless in searching for my identity. At times I feel I would be happier working as a nurse or even an Ayah in Dr.Shylender’s clinic. Or happily swap places with Vijaya….’

Her sigh was audible.

“If life is so easy and simple, it signifies only one thing. Some where down the line there is a rude shock, a severe blow, a major twist. Life is not a plug and play gadget. It’s much more complex than that.”

How did he read my thoughts? Shalini was shocked. Shylender continued.

After a while Shylender got more and more absorbed in helping people and communities. He was not satisfied with what he was doing in a place like Coimbatore where reasonable medical facilities were available. He wanted to reach out to the far-flung rural communities.

He started conducting medical camps. Armed with sponsorships from voluntary service organisations he camped in places like Kothagiri, interior Ooty where there were a lot of tribal people who never had access to the modern medicine. Even the ubiquitous paracetamol was a miracle drug to them.

Swami Sadbrahma Shivacharya was there to inaugurate one of Shyl’s medical camps in Mettupalayam. The Swamiji had heard of Sylender’s service. Shyl had heard of Swamiji’s impeccable reputation and blemishless character. The chemistry clicked.

In one of the private meetings when they were discussing about some esoteric subject, Swamiji shivered all of a sudden and stopped talking. Shylender was shocked. After a while Swamiji placed his hands on Shylender’s head and spoke softly.

“Son, destiny is about to play its dirty game on you. Never lose heart. Whatever happens happens for good. For a while you need to be extraordinarily strong. Remember the famous saying,”Thousands are called, but only a few are chosen.” You are among the chosen few. But right now times are difficult.”

Shylender recruited bright Doctors for his city clinics and spent more than 15 days in a month in medical camps.

Nobody knew what caused it or how it all started. But when it happened Vijaya was swept over by it.

Shylender wanted to extend his clinic and add a few more facilities. As he was travelling a lot he entrusted the job of consulting the architect to Vijaya.

Suresh was a boy-wonder in the world of architects. At 28 he was the most sought after professional in the city. He was exceedingly handsome with a sharpnose, moderate height and wheatish complexion.

When Vijaya met him for the first time in his office, he was the most eligible bachelor in the town.

Shylendar’s clinic-extension was a small project for Suresh’s office and normally he would have let one of his juniors handle it. But the moment he saw her in his office lobby, he was awe-struck.

Not that Vijaya was a ‘beauty-pageant-grade-beauty’; but there was something in her that pulled Suresh’s heart strings. As if possessed he called his junior to tell him that he would handle whatever project that the lady in the yellow saree had brought with her.

When Suresh and Vijaya met, it was her turn to be awestruck. One thing led to another and soon they were caught in a passionate affair.

There was a remarkable change in Vijaya, so much so, that led Shylender to say, “Darling, surely something has happened to you. I could see a distinct happiness in your face these days.” Vijaya bit her lips and took herculean efforts to subdue the thunderous voice of her conscience.

Shylender was blissfully unaware of his wife’s infidelity which was happening almost under his nose.

The lovers were so absorbed in each other that they threw all caution to winds.

One Saturday afternoon Shylender was starting to go for a medical camp in a village near Ooty. The supplies had been loaded in his Toyota Innova. He had a light lunch and kissed his wife goodbye.

Vijaya was restlessly waiting for twenty minutes, the margin she always allowed for her husband. She was virtually counting the seconds. At the end of twentieth minute she placed a call to Suresh. Consumed by her passion, Vijaya did not notice Shylender’s mobile phone which he had forgotten to take.

They had planned their rendezvous the previous day itself. Suresh was in a nearby restaurant just waiting for Vijaya’s call. He appeared in Shylender’s portico in another ten minutes.

Shylender waded through the week-end traffic and hit the highway thirty minutes after he left home. Then he remembered about something to be done at his clinic. He wanted to call but his mobile phone was not there. He turned round the vehicle and drove back to his home unware of what was waiting for him there.

His house was in the Race course area of Coimbatore which though near the heart of the city was unusually calm. When Shylender manouvered the massive Innova into the calm street he never knew that the usual calmness in the street was actually the ‘unusual calm before the storm.’

He parked the vehicle outside his house and walked in. He let himself in with the house-key he had. He picked up his mobile and was about to go when he heard some noises from his bedroom. Maybe Vijaya was cleaning the room or arranging his wardrobe. He went around the portico to bedroom window. He wanted to just say hello to his wife and take leave of her again.

He had never thought that he would live to see such a scene in his own bedroom. His own, dear wife Vijaya in the arms of another man! In a compromising position. In flagrante delicto! Now he understood the unusual happiness in her face. Now he understood what was going on.

Blessed with a soft heart and a mind predisposed to serve others, Shylender had more of grief than of rage at that outrageous sight. He traced back his steps to the door, locked it and left the house silently.

As he was driving along the treacherous ghat section road to Ooty, his mind was formulating several plans. When Swamiji warned about some dirty game to be played by Destiny, he never imagined that it could be this dirty. A sob escaped from his mouth.

Why should this happen? Why should Vijaya stoop down to such a level? He would have been less hurt if Vijaya had openly told him that she was not happy with him and was going with another man. Shylender would have granted divorce and freed her.

But she was riding on two horses at the same time. At least if she had not had any physical relationship with Shylender during the subsistence of this affair, her crime would have been less heinous. They had sex only two days ago. Vijaya showed her usual passionate involvement. What did it mean?

Unlike many others Shylender had had a fairly easy life till then. He never had any wants in life. Born of rich parents, gifted with good brains he had been happy all along. That made the shock caused by this betrayal absolute.

When he reached the base station for the medical camp, sun was setting behind the majestic Western Ghats. His assistants had arrived earlier. He ordered them to unpack the medical supplies and went for a walking.

When he reached a deserted cliff, his decision to end his life was firm. He was about to leap to his death when a hand fell on his shoulder.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri May 17, 2013 3:03 pm

SHE - 16

Feeling totally betrayed by his wife’s infidelity, Shylender was about to leap to death from the deserted cliff. Microseconds before he jumped, a hand fell on his shoulders. Swami Sadbrahma Shivacharya.

Swamiji did not appear shocked. There was a benign smile on his face which told him that he knew that this would happen.

“Please follow me, Son.”

Dr.Shylender followed Sadbrhama Shivacharya like an errant school boy following his Master. They walked for more than a mile to reach Swamiji’s dwelling. It was was a simple, neat hut with the majestic Western Ghats as the backdrop.

The moment they were inside he fell at Swamiji’s feet and was sobbing. Swamiji let him cry as long as he could.

“Beta, you are chosen by God. Can the God’s favourite child attempt the shameful act of suicide?”

Amidst sobs, Shylender narrated what happened to him. Swamiji listened to him with rapt attention. Then he closed his eyes and was silent for the next ten minutes, the longest ten minutes in Shylender’s life. When Swamiji opened his eyes there was an unusual calm in his face.

“My son, I can understand your pain, though I am far removed from the ways of the world. I am also a human being like you, no better than you. I can’t even think of offering you any solution right now. I can only say killing oneself can never be the solution. It only shifts the whole problem to an even more inconvenient plane.”

Shylender was standing like a statue drinking in Swamiji’s words.

“Please listen to me. What I may suggest may not be a panacea for all your ills. But something tells me that if you work in this direction somewhere down the line, may be within two weeks, two years or two hundred lifetimes, you may find yourself again. Son, will you do exactly as I say?”

“Swamiji, as of now I have nobody else in the world and have nowhere else to go. You will have to show me the way.”

“Shylender Beta, very few people have served the people as you have done. Still Beta, it is one thing to serve the whole humanity in general and another thing to help one person in distress, especially if that person is not known to you, and not related to you. That to me is the supreme form of service. That should be your agenda, my son.”

“But tell me Swamiji, whom should I help and what kind of help it is?”

“I am not God, Shyl, to see everything before it happens. Now tell me who is your closest friend ?”

Shylender thought for a while and told about his friend who was working for the Government Hospital in Kumbakonam.

Kumar and Shyl went to the same school and the same Medical College. Shylender and Kumar would always meet on the New Year’s day either at Kumbakonam or Coimbatore to exchange notes about their lives.

It was not the romantic “eating in the same plate, sleeping in the same bed” friendship. But it was a good, healthy relationship in which there were no expectations and therefore no frustrations. When one was professionally or personally stressed out, he invariably called the other and they would chat for an hour.

A good friend and a good coversation with him even now tops the list of all the stressbusters available in the market today.

Swamiji closed his eyes and was thinking. Though Swamiji vehemently denied his clairvoyant powers, Shylender knew that he was standing before a soul, who knew the past, the present and the future. He was waiting for Swamiji’s command.

“Beta, I will take care of this medical camp. You leave this place early in the morning. You will reach your friend’s place in the evening. While in Kumbakonam you will have to practise a meditation technique I am going to teach you now.”

Meditation, prayer, religion and worship – Shylender’s bland smile betrayed his exasperation and utter disappointment.

“No, Shyl, it is not what you think. I am not going to ask you to repeat a mantra, to tell God’s name, or focus your thoughts on a burning candle or any other esoteric bull****. My meditation is simple.

“It is extreme awareness. Not of any particular thing, God’s image or anything extraneous to you. I call this the meditation of alertness or mindfullness. It is just being full of your mind always at all times. Even if you swat a fly, do it with all your mind, body and soul.

“Do any act even if it is sipping your coffee or answering the nature’s call, do it with your fullest consciousness. While in that state you are likely to hear within seven days from today, that somebody is in deep trouble, something which cannot be solved just by money, but only by your dedicated service to that person.

“Approach the person and offer your help. And don’t expect anything from that person. That person’s problem should become your problem. And when you save that person from trouble, your path will be made clear to you. God bless you.”

Shylender was about to leave.

“You stay with me here in this hut tonight. I will wake you up at five. You need to leave this place before the sun raises.”

Shylender obeyed.

Betrayal by a loved one inflicts a pain which is far more acute even than the loss of a loved one. Shylender found it difficult to concentrate on anything. He could not sleep that night in Swamiji’s hut.

He was woken up at 5 AM. Shylender prostrated at Swamiji’s feet and took leave of him. Swamiji walked with him to his car. Shylender was surprised to see a man sitting in the driver’s seat.

Swamiji smiled.

“A friend, Beta. He will drive you to your destination. I don’t think you can drive in this state of mind. God bless you.”

Kumar welcomed his friend who had almost lost his bearings. Kumar’s wife had gone to her parent’s place with their children. So the friends could freely talk to each other.

Kumar was complaining to Shyl that because of some bureaucratic vengeance he had been assigned autopsy duties for two months.

Autopsy was something which any Doctor hated except very few who had investigative minds or loved to move closely with the enforcement arm of the law. Kumar hated it with all his heart. To him it was like reverting to his college days where they used to cut, open and stitch the cadavers for gaining knowledge and experience in surgery and anatomy.

Added to that there were lots of forms to fill up and the hassle of attending court hearings as a prosecution witness.

Two days later Shyl and Kumar were having dinner at their favourite vegetarian joint near the Sarangapani Temple.

Shylender’s mind was drifting for the millionth time to the scene he saw on that fateful day – his wife in the arms of another man. Then he remembered Swamiji’s words. He brought back his mind to the present and started focussing on the surroundings.

Out of the blue Kumar blurted.

“This lady is going to be in deep trouble.”

Yes, he was referring to Shalini. And he told Shylender about the plans of the police to arrest that lady early next morning. Shylender almost pounced on his friend, abandoned his dinner and tried to find out how to reach Shalini.
The rest was history.

“So, Shal, you were a kind of salvation for me.”
Shylender could guess what Shalini thought from her facial expressions.

“Shalini, let me be frank. I like you very much. Your courage, your determination and your brains – I admire them all. You are also very beautiful. Had I met you before my marriage I would have fallen head over heels in love with you. But this betrayal of my wife has left my mind deeply scarred.

I am not fit to enter into any relationship now. Allow me to go my way.”

Shalini smiled. It was neither an expression of grief nor one of happiness. It was just bland. Shylender continued.

“Swamiji is God Himself. For two days after the judgment came in your case I got an offer letter from an international organisation to work as a volunteer in Africa. I am leaving India next week. I may not come back.”

“ “
“Shalini, we are almost in the same boat. Each one of us is alone. We have lost our partners, one way or the other. Don’t be put down by what the world says. There is no life in this world which can fit the line, “they lived happily ever after.” The line belongs to fairy tales and it is better it stays there.

“We get into all types of complications when we try to seek the meaning of that line in real life. You are a strong woman. Go on with your search. You may not have a happy life; but at the end you will look back on the path walked by you with pride. You are sacrificing happiness for the sake of fulfilment. And never forget fulfilment is the only lasting form of happiness.”

Shalini was there in the airport to see off Dr.Shylender. Shylender refused to accept anything from her. Finally Shalini almost begged him to allow her to upgrade his economy class ticket into business class.

“You made my life’s journey easy, Shyl. Let me at least make your journey to Africa easy. Please let me do it.”

Shylender agreed.

Shalini returned to an empty nest again. She was free now. For the fourth time in her life she was free to choose anything from the full menu card of life. She would be thirty six in another five months.

What was she going to do? Advertise for another live-in relationship? No way. She was tired and exhausted. She was not just once-bitten to be twice shy. She was bitten several times to be shy for ever and ever.

At the same time she did not want to live the life of a recluse cut off from all human relationships. She did not have the mind to work again.

She started going out to clubs, to cultural gatherings, music performances and the theatres. Going out to places, in her case, was not an attempt to numb her mind to the lonely life which it appeared, she was destined forever. She was still open to relationships; but was not ready to take the plunge as she had been doing in the past.

She did meet a lot of interesting people. Of them, two people stood out.

The first was a very young music Director whom she met in a film premiere. Raja was a very creative person and there was quite a lot of music in him. His melodies were very soft and his re-recording was of very distinct quality. He was also a good conversationalist and given his talents did not have even a trace of arrogance.

Shalini and Raja went steady for a while. But Shalini kept the relationship at a purely platonic level. They never got more intimate than shaking hands.

One day Raja was talking about the present state of film industry in the South. He was explaining all the malpractices which even he had to adopt as part of survival.

All music directors owned recording theatres. So when the producer booked them for music, they had to book their own theatres. They charged something like Rs.10000 for a recording session of about two hours.

Music Directors know how to run up the theatre rent by messing up with the appointments of playback singers. In a two hour session they can easily record three or even four songs. But they saw to it that only one song was recorded by deliberately asking the second singer to come late for recording.

He talked about the rampant promiscuity in the industry. Raja sheepishly admitted of having slept with Kollywood’s number one heroine. And several times with small time actresses and wannabe singers. Like any other male he wanted to boast of his conquests to his new-found lady friend. Shalini was not impressed.

Shalini got away from him slowly and after a while severed all connections with him.

The next person who interested her was a fifty year old Vedanta Scholar. Shalini’s acquainttance took her along to his lecture. Sharma was an acclaimed exponent of Vedanta. His lectures on Gita was as great a crowd puller as a multi-starrer Kollywood movie.

That day’s lecture was on Karma Yoga, where Lord Krishna explains one’s work as the way of salvation. Sharma’s flow of English words, his wide learning which made him quote from literature across the world, made the two hours fly.

Shalini’s friend took her to the green room to introduce her to Sharma. Clad in a safron kurthi, Sharma looked handsome in his own way. His face betrayed the knowledge he had gathered over long years.

Shalini congratulated him on his flawless delivery. He was pleased. He also invited her to his Vedanta classes which he held every morning at his house.

Sharma was an interesting person to converse with. He had a phenomenal memory and was blessed with an intelligence to be able quote from various sources, whenever they discussed something.

Shalini spent hours on end discussing with him various aspects of life. She also told him about her life so far. One day Sharma told her just like that,

“Shalini, why don’t you join my Ashram and become a sanyasin? The trials and tribulations you have gone through have prepared you for the highest life of a yogin. If you are ready, I will initiate you on this new moon day, which is just four days away. You will never have a moment of grief after that. You will be giving yourself to God.”

Shalini was lost in thought.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Tue May 21, 2013 3:25 pm

SHE - 17

“Shalini, why don’t you join my Ashram and become a sanyasin? The trials and tribulations you have gone through have prepared you for the highest life of a yogin. If you are ready, I will initiate you on this new moon day, which is just four days away. You will never have a moment of grief after that. You will be giving yourself to God.”

Shalini was first shocked by Sharma’s statement. Then she thought over it. Her fortieth birthday was just months away. Twelve years of going in search of her identity, what did she find? Was there an identity within her that was worth these twelve years of search and all the trials and tribulations that accompanied it?

Shalini had an active life of another twenty five years to go. She did not yearn for male company as she did earlier. Even with Shylender she was prepared to accept his proposal, if at all he made one, only out of a sense of exhaustion and a deep sense of gratitude.

But for Shylender, who knows, she might have even been convicted of killing Raj Metha and either hanged or put behind bars for a life term. And during the two years she fought the case, she did not have anybody to talk to except Dr. Shylender. Coming to think of it he was more like her father’s friend sent by her father for the very specific purpose of protecting her.

In a way Shylender’s life has also been as stormy as hers. But in his case at least, there was a Swamiji to show the way. Swamiji had been almost a God to him. At times she thought of going in search of that Swamiji. But then abandoned the idea.

If Swamiji was Godsend for Shylender then Sharmaji was Godsend for Shalini. That thought gave her slight shivers. May be her mission was in renunciation and her identity could be found by reading the scriptures and abandoning the external world. Then should she give away her wealth to charities and assume the life of a hermit under Sharma’s tutelage?

A few months before she had met one of the girls who did CA with her. Aparna, unlike Shalini, came from a more conventional, orthodox background. Her father did not let her go for work even after she completed her CA. She was married off to a wealthy engineer. Within three years she became the mother of two girls. When the girls were old enough, her husband had let her set up her own practice.

Aparna and Shalini once met in the canteen of Music Academy. Over the hot Adai and Avial the women exchanged notes on their lives so far. Shalini told her without a tinge of jealousy, either in her voice or in her mind:

“So Aparna, you are now happily settled. Wife, mother of two children and above all a practising chartered accountant. Putting into practice what we studied. Should be one swell of a life dear. I am happy for you.”

Shalini thought that she would accept the compliment with a shy smile. Instead Aparna let out a sigh. When she spoke there was more of exasperation and resignation than enthusiasm in her voice.

“My life is a straight hell, Shal. Yes, I have everything, family, money and a profession. But I have to work both at home and in the office. My mother-in-law is very religious and orthodox.

“She wakes up at 5 in the morning for her puja. I have to be up at least an hour earlier to make the arrangements. Then cooking, waking up the girls and packing them off to school.

“Then to office where a mountainload of work will always be waiting. When I go back home at 7 exhausted, the entire family will be waiting for me. I have to then cook for all. The girls will be busy with their studies and would never venture to come a mile near the kitchen.

“My husband when he is home will be permanently glued to the TV. Many times I will have to carry his food to the bedroom.

“When I clean the kitchen and go to bed at 11, my husband will switch off the TV only to have a physical relationship with me. I will be so tired that I will not have strength even to say no.

“I will just close my eyes tight and pray it should be over soon. I will have barely four and a half hours to sleep. Then the alarm will go off. Another day exactly like the previous day will start.

“This is my life for six days. Sunday will be a holiday for all of us, except God. Even on that day, my mother-in-law will have to do the puja by five which means I will have to get up by four.

“The only luxury I have in life is the two hours sleep I have on Sunday morning after breakfast.”

Shalini was lost in thought for a while. Aparna continued to talk, now in a different tone.

“I wish I had the choices you had, Shal. You do what you want to do. You relate only to those people whom you want to relate to. You do not have an obligation to relate to a person like my mother-in-law.”

Shalini thought for a while before she spoke.

“Aparna, don’t ever think your life is bad or mine better. True, I had an unlimited range of choice. I have had good relatoinship with at least half a dozen men. If your life is straight hell, as you said, then my life should be a clear heavan, as it is completely different from yours.

“I must confess Aparna, it is not so. It is just different. Neither better nor worse. I have seen many people who live sort of your kind of life tell me that I am blessed. But I am not sure. From where you stand, my life might look like the garden of Eden. You will have to come here, to live in my shoes, to know what it really is.”

“Life is not a gamble as philosophers love to speculate; it is an eternal trade off. We have to give up some thing in order to get something else. We always long for what we have given up. We see others who have made different trade-offs and feel that they live a better life. But the truth is others seeing us think the same way.”

Both the women did not speak for a while. They exchanged some pointless pleasantries and took leave of each other.

What Shalini had been planning was a kind of quasi-retirement. Would it not be too early, she thought. Or was it an active life but in a different direction? No, it was not. Living the life of a sanyasin, whatever may be the cult or religion or sect you belonged has to be a kind of retirement. For you are away from the highway of busy traffic and take refuge in the bye lanes of temporary solace.

She remembered her father’s advice to his close friend on the subject. The friend was working for an MNC in Delhi. He had been a globe-trotter, a high flying executive who had made his millions pretty early in life.

Once when he visited Chennai he hosted a dinner for Shiva and Shalini at an exclusive club.

Over his first round of drinks he told Shiva that he was planning to retire.

“It’s pretty too early, Ganesh. You are not even fifty.”

“I know. But I have worked enough. I have had enough. You know what I am going to do? Sell all my properties in Delhi buy a small house in Kodaikkanal very near the Kurinji Andavar temple.

“I will live on the interest from my savings. I will do nothing. Get up in the morning. Have a brisk walk. Then after my bath visit the temple and then go around the streets of Kodaikkanal. Come home for a good lunch. Two hours nap. Dress up and go to the lake. Walk around the lake a few times, seeing tourists from across the country. Come home for a light supper and a warm sleep. Well, if that’s not a peaceful retirment, what is it?”

Shalini was so impressed by that man’s plans. But Shiva was not. He was thinking. Every one especially the friend’s wife was looking at Shiva. After a full minute Shiva asked his friend:

“Have you bought the house in Kodaikkanal?”

“Not yet. I have identified a good, compact house, just a stone’s throw from the Temple. Have given a token advance. Will finalise the deal within a month.”

“Ganesh, take my advice. Don’t buy the house. Take it on a lease, let’s say for 6 months or one year.”

“What happened to you Shiva? I am going to live in that idyllic place till I die. Why should I not buy that house? Why go for a lease?”

Shiva’s smile was indulgent.

“I have been observing this kind of phenomenon of late. Working in a busy metro like Delhi or Mumbai and then opting to retire in a totally laid-back town. I have not even seen one who could do that successfully. We cannot shift life’s gears downward, as we do in a car, when we slow down. I can tell you a hundred cases where an arrangement like this has failed.

“And you have not seen Kodaikkanal during off-season. Especially during rains. Completely deserted and abandoned. Though there are hospitals and doctors, nothing like what you get in a regular town, like let’s say Coimbatore or Madurai

“But that’s not the point. I have formed a hypothesis that it is very difficult to live in a town, that’s not as busy as the one, you have been living for years.

“Listen, Ganesh. Give some money to the building owner and stay there in that place for a month, let’s say in June. If you find the living ok, you go for one year-lease. And if after the end of one year, you still find that ok, you buy the place and settle down there.”

Shalini was upset about her father throwing cold water so mercilessly over his friend’s retirement plants. She saw the man’s face fell and once they were alone, she started a hot argument with her father.

Shiva just smiled and said, “Dear, let’s just defer this argument to July, after the end of the trial period. Ganesh would not go against my words.”

And as it always happened her father had the last laugh. Ganesh could not stay in that place for two weeks. Being used to the life-style of a metro, he could not fit in to the laid-back of style of the hill resort in off-season. There were a lot of minor irritants which he could not simply stand.

Shalini was there when Ganesh came to thank Shiva for his most practical advice. There was not even a hint of ‘I told you so’ in Shiva’s voice. He was only sad.

“Ganesh, this is a profound lesson in life. When we adjust ourselves to live a busy life, to pack forty hours of work in a 24-hour day, to constantly chase ever-elusive financial and career goals, we lose our ability to live in a calm quiet place doing nothing. Move over to a suburb of Delhi, may be somewhere in Dwaraka and have a peaceful life. Try doing something which you had always loved to do.”

Shalini was floored.

‘Oh, Dad, where are you? Wont you have mercy on your little girl and show her the way?’

Shalini’s mind was in a prayerful state repeating the question as if it were a Mantra.
And the mantra worked. She had a flash. Whatever her father told Ganesh was squarely applicable to her life as well.

Yes, she was going to tell Sharma that she would stay in his Ashram for, let’s say a month, and if she found it okay, then she would think of changing her life for ever. No need for a formal initiation now.

Sharma was traditional in his values but quite modern in his thinking. His Ashram was situated in a scenic place a few kilometres away from Sriperumpudur, which was on the ouirts of Chennai.

The dwellings were only huts but they had power, running water and top-class sanitation facilities. “To aim at salvation at the cost of sanitation is ridiculous.” Sharmaji quipped quite often.

As all monasteries do they had a very strict time-schedule. Wake-up call was at half past five. Steaming hot filter coffee at six. An hour of meditation. Every day at seven someone will come from outside to talk to them for an hour or so.

A light break-fast of fruits, idlies, cereals will follow at half past eight. What the initiates did from nine to one in the afternoon was something unique to that Ashram.

They had a wide range of choices. They could do physical work like gardening, craft or simple industrial processes like deflashing of rubber components or do reading under the guidance of a senior or go for advanced lessons on scriptures. Shalini opted for guided reading.

They had a simple work-a-day lunch around one and had some cultural programmes or watched videos of some lectures. Around four they had a hot cup of ginger tea and then went for an hour’s workout. In the evening there was satsang which consisted of Bhajans, namasankirthans and the rest.

In addition to this regimen the inmates had to take turns in doing the household chores of Ashram like cooking, washing and cleaning dishes.

Two times in a week the inmates would divide themselves into groups and visit old age homes, orphanages, hopsitals, hospices or slums to serve people in distress.

Within a week’s time Shalini started loving the routine and was fully immersed in her study. Time was flying. For the first time in several years, Shalini felt a peace in her mind which could not be easily described.

Destiny which was sitting on the wings and watching the show thought that time has come for it to show its face again in Shalini’s life. For one final time.

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PostSubject: Re: SHE    Fri May 24, 2013 1:51 pm

SHE - 18 Final Episode

Shalini had enrolled herself in Sharmaji’s Ashram near Sriperumpudur on the ouirts of Chennai. She had made it clear to Sharmaji that her enrolment was on trial basis with her retaining the option to call it quits anytime.

Within a week Shalini started loving the routine and was fully immersed in her study. Time was flying. For the first time in several years, Shalini felt a peace in her mind which could not be easily described.

She liked her field visits the most – the bi-weekly visit to orphanages, hospitals and the like. It was one thing to sit all alone and contemplate on the High Principle. And it was something totally different to see people in flesh and blood suffering and then offering them help, even if the help was just a few words of comfort.

Seeing suffering all around her Shalini’s first instinct was to give her money away to all these people so that they will be happy. She remembered her father’s views on helping others by giving money. “Money is not a panacea for all ills. If we can solve the problems of our poor by money, they could have done it long back by distributing money along foodgrains in ration shops. It does not happen that way.”

On that hot Friday afternoon Shalini was assigned to a group that was visiting a hospice for terminally ill patients. The difference between a hospital and hospice is this. People go to a hospital to get cured; but they go to a hospice to die peacefully. Patients in advanced stages of cancer, AIDS victims, children born with some congential illness who are about to die any time – a hospice is a sanctuary for these people.

The hospice they visited that day was run by a missionary organisation. Shalini and five others from her Ashram got down from the vehicle and were taken to the Controller’s room.

Shalini was passing the general ward of the hospice. She was shocked by what she saw. She could not believe her eyes. She went ahead to join her group. She then retraced her steps and saw that again.

Yes. What she saw was true. But how? She ran down the hall to join others. Then on an impulse she came back to see the occupant of bed number 14. Then she ran up faster to join others in her team.

They were to spend five hours in that hospice. Each were allotted three patients among whom they should apportion their time. Their brief: just talk to them. Hold their hands. Or do anything that might comfort a dying person.

The others started their work, while Shalini asked for time and went into the Controller’s room. She told him with pleading eyes that she wanted to know all details about the patient in bed number 14.

The Controller said in a sad voice.
“A very unfortunate case. HIV Positive. But AIDS has not yet struck. Who knows, he may live for another ten or 15 years. With the kind of retro-viral drugs available now, he can live a near-normal life. The problem is that he has nobody.”

“Please check your records Controller. Does he not have a father, a wife and children?”

“No. A retired Captain from the army has had him admitted here. The Captain said that he is a distant relative and was working for him. He is paying quite a lot to keep him here.

“Normally we do not admit this kind of people. Our rules allow only terminally ill patients to be admitted here. But the Captain paid us quite a lot of money and we just closed our eyes. In a way that man is a bonanza for us. Because of him, because of the money we got for him, we are providing another twenty patients, a decent life till they die.”

If Shalini was shocked she did not show it on her face. But could not hide her emotions when she spoke. Her voice was almost choked.

“Can you tell me Controller, when is the Captain likely to visit the man in bed number 14?”

“That I can say for sure. He does everything with military precision. You see today is Thursday. He will be here on Saturdays and Wednesdays. He would come around three in the afternoon and stay here till late in the night. He has also requested me to locate a good orphanage for two children.”

In spite of her best efforts, Shalini’s eyes became full. She took enormous efforts to muffle her sobs. After some time she told him in a emotionally drained voice,

“I think I will be able to help you on that. Don’t tell anything to anyone. I will be here on Saturday.”

As soon as Shalini reached the Ashram she contacted Sharmaji on his mobile and briefly explained her life-situation.

“Go ahead, Shalini. What you have in mind is a thousand times better than the life of a sanyasin. May God Bless you.”

Sharmaji’s words were soothing. She was released from the Ashram on Friday morning. She spent rest of the day contacting some persons and digging up more information on the occupant of bed number 14.

She did not have a wink of sleep on Friday night.

She got up early on Saturday. She stood before her father’s framed picture, the closest she had ever come to worshipping God. She was silently meditating on the options available before her. She took a decision and looked at her father’s smiling face.

It appeared as if her father were talking to her in person.

“You are right, dear. Go ahead. I am with you.”

She wiped her tears and started preparing herself for the visit to the Hospice late in the afternoon.

In a hospice many patients come and go. Almost no one went back to their home. They all went to their permanent home up above. Death was constantly present in the building and would register its presence once in three or four days.

On that fateful Saturday, two patients had died. One was a child who had lukemia and the other was a person in late sixties with an inoperable brain tumour. In both the cases death had been a relief to their suffering. As was the custom, all the other patients gathered around the mortal remains of those who died and were offering silent prayers.

There were two visitors to the hospice on that day. One was a retired military captain who was waiting in the visitor’s lobby. The other was Shalini who was waiting in the Controller’s Room. She had come to the hospice around twelve and used these three hours to get a lot of work done.

When the prayer for the departed was over, the visitors were let in. The Captain went straight to bed number 14. He had a basket of fruits in his hand.

“How are you doing, my son?”

Before the patient could muster himself to answer the question, a roar was heard from the other side of the room. The Captain and the patient turned to find who it was.

“Wrong, Captain Ramnath, wrong. He is not your son.”

The patient was shocked and did not speak. The captain identified the person but still asked the question to insult the intruder.

“Who the hell are you, lady?”

“Captain, I ask the same question of you. Who the hell are you to come and talk to this man?”

“I am his father. He is my only son, Rishi.”

“He was, Captain. But not now. The moment you disowned him, the moment you decided he is not fit enough to stay in your house, he ceased to be your son.”

After seeing Rishi in that hospice on Thursday Shalini had contacted the live-in maid of the Captain’s house and had gathered the details.

Rishi had gone to a remote place in South Tamilnadu for a repair work relating to a dam. He had had a fall from a height of ten feet and was admitted to the local hospital in that mofussil town.

An emergency blood transfusion was called for. The mofussil hospital did not have facilties to screen the blood sample for HIV. So Rishi got tainted blood and HIV as a bonus.

No one knew that until three months later. Rishi had acute stomach pain and an emergency surgery had to be done to remove his inflamed appendix. Post-surgery, a battery of tests were taken which revealed that Rishi was HIV positive.

Rishi silently broke the news to his wife and father. The very next day his wife ran away from their home deserting not only her HIV husband but also her two children, for no fault of theirs.

Captain was more afraid of the scandal than about the health and life of his only son. He did not want his son to live with him under the same roof.

Captain sweet-talked Rishi into getting himself admitted at this hospice. He threw away a lot of money and had put his weight around to hide the fact that Rishi was HIV positive.

Shalini was now in a belligrent mood. Rishi was speechless. Captain was fuming.

“See this Captain. In the admission form you have described Rishi as “a distant relative.”

Rishi was hurt and Captain could not withstand his son’s pointed stare.

“You have not yet answered my question, who the hell are you? “

“A mother, Captain, a mother. Of three children. And this is my eldest. See how cute he is.”

Shalini went near rishi and ruffled his hair. A sob escaped Rishi’s mouth.

Captain was furious now.

“Don’t touch my son. You bitch, you ditched him. You deserted him. And now what right have you to touch him?”

“Captain, your crime is no less. You also ditched him. You let him down. You booked him as your ‘distant relative.’”

“Listen lady, you have already told us that you cannot live as Rishi’s wife.”

“Yes, it was difficult to love Rishi as a husband as he was under your shadow and was your most obedient soldier. As a wife I had a lot of expectations and Rishi frustrated them all. So I left him.

“Now I have come back not as his wife or even his ex-wife. But as a mother. A mother never has any expectations. Rishi as a husband might have failed in my case. But as a son Rishi is too good. Which you should know better, because till two months back he was your son.”

“You know bitch, that Rishi is now legally married to another woman and has children.”

“I know, Captain. I also know that the good, orthodox, subservient, village girl, who worshipped her husband as pathi-parameshwar when the going was good, has now run away.

“And I have come back on my own when disaster has struck. To be able to love an AIDS patient and to take care of him as my son, when there is no relationship subsisting between us, can be done only by a woman who has found her identity. I have found mine. “

Captain turned over and started to walk out. Shalini called him.

“Captain Ramnath, do you remember the last captainism you sent to me? I can never forget it till I die. “A woman is not complete until she becomes a mother.” I am now a complete woman. Just think what happened to that uneducated, complete woman who was living with Rishi all these years?”

Captain was struck for words. Shalini ignored him and talked to Rishi.

“Rishi, we are going to our home in an hour. I have completed all the formalities. You are going to live a normal, happy life with me and with those cuties, Aditya and Ak****ha.

“I will be the mother of all the three. You will have no care or worry in this world. You will get the best treatment that money can buy. I am pledging all my wealth for your treatment.”

Captain left the room in a fit of anger. Shalini went near Rishi. He buried his face in Shalini’s chest and was sobbing for a long time. Shalini let him cry as long as he could. Then she slowly lifted his face and kissed him on his forehead. She now spoke with utmost conviction:

“Rishi, I decided to leave you when my father told me about the choices in life. He told me that everything is a matter of choice and having chosen one thing I could easily change it later, though that would involve some real costs.

“But he also told me that that one could never go out of a relationship but can only grow out of it. At that time I did not think about the second statement; but now I am constantly thinking of that. After living with so many men, after a string of relationships, I now feel that ones situation in life is like one’s class in the school.

“The only way to get out of a class is to study well, pass the exams and go to the next class. I just ran out my class and so was forced to study in the same class in a lot of other schools.”

After a long time Rishi spoke in a broken voice.

“Shalini, let me not block your life. I can spend the rest of my life here. You are still young and good looking. Why should you waste your life on a dying man?”

“I have had a good life Rishi. I had a string of relationships. I had happiness, pleasures and grief. Enough of them to last a hundred lifetimes. I was searching for my identiy in the wrong places.

“Now only I have found it. As a mother, as a nurse and a person who is going to love without expecting anything in return. Please let me do that, Rishi.”

Rishi tightened his grip on her hands and was sobbing uncontrollably. Shalini was affectionately patting on his back.

They saw the setting sun through the hospice’s large French window. Shalini now had a feeling that the sun had just risen in her life.

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