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The continuous ringing of the telephone bell stopped her from locking the door.
“Who could it be? It is already 10:10 am and it would be impossible to reach office by 10:30,” she opened the door quickly and rushed towards the ringing phone.
“Yes, Sumi, this is Manisha…”
“Please come quickly, Sumi,” there was a very sincere request in Manisha’s voice.
“What is it, Manisha? Is everything all right?”
“Yes, there is nothing to worry.”
She felt relieved. But after a second, he said, “Then why…?”
“You know my friend Kavita, don’t you? She has a problem and she is here with me.”
She did not understand clearly because her mind was at bus stop. She said, “All right, I will be back from my office in about two hours, and then I will come to you.”
“Manisha is a strange girl; she unnecessarily invites troubles. She asks me to come immediately as if I am free. I have to go to office. Who is this Kavita now? I don’t know Kavita but Manisha has called me to solve her problem,” walking towards the bus station, she was muttering to herself.
The gateman at the gate greeted her, “Good morning, Madam.”
Lost in Kavita’s thoughts, she did not realize when she reached the bus stop, when she boarded the bus, and when she reached the office.
She decided to complete her work quickly. She was newly appointed as a visualizer in that office. She had felt an artificial type of formality in the ambience around her in that office but there was excessive openness and frankness that was the requirement of the trade. She was not habitual to that kind of environment but she performed her duties diligently and she had tried to maintain friendly relations with her colleagues.
She had to complete the visualization of two new advertisements and Manisha had disturbed her with her phone call about Kavita. Mr. Khandekar was his senior and he knew that an artist could not be forced to do anything if the artist was not in mood.
Mr. Khandekar approached her desk and said, “Sumi, you look disturbed. Is there any problem?”
“Sir, my friend has been hospitalized. I got the message just now,” she lied.
“Don’t you worry, the boss has gone to Calcutta today and he will come back tomorrow. You can complete your work at home.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“And if you want to go to hospital, you can.”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
After some time, she was hurrying down the stairs. She took a taxi and reached Manisha’s house. Manisha was waiting for her. The scene in the drawing room was unexpected. Kavita was weeping, sitting on a sofa and Manisha was trying to console her.
“Thank God, you have come,” said Manisha as soon as she saw me, “Now you make this Kavita understand. She has been crying since she came to me.”
She screened Kavita from top to bottom: medium height, biscuit complexion, short hair, and eyes swollen because of constant weeping but in all respect she was beautiful.
“What is the problem?” said she, sitting near Kavita on the sofa. For some time she did not stop weeping but after a while she composed herself and looked at the other woman as if the visitor was a judge or a lawyer who was going t solve her problem.
“Please tell me, do I lack anything. I am beautiful, I am qualified, and I am a good wife. I have a son, and I am efficient in household works. What else does he want?”
It was clear that she was talking about her husband. She began to understand everything.
According to Kavita, her husband was seeing another woman. Her husband, Nilesh, had begun to behave badly with her of late. It seemed that there was more suspicion than facts. It was possible that the relation between her husband and the other woman was friendly and only concerned his business.
She heard everything attentively from Kavita and finally showed her disapproval of Kavita’s husband. She cursed Kavita’s husband too.
Manisha said, “All men are equal. They easily get attracted to the wives of other men but if someone tries to talk to their own wives, they are jealous and furious.”
“Our scriptures say that a man should respect his friend’s wife like he respects his mother,” said she, “You are lucky, Manisha, your Anuj is not like other men.”
“On the surface he looks innocent, but inside he is like other men too,” said Manisha and laughed.
“Now, what do you want, Kavita,” she said, turning towards Kavita.
“I can’t tolerate all this. I can stand the sight of that other woman. Our son can’t be brought up nicely in this environment. Our quarrels can affect his mind,” said Kavita.
She thought for a while and then said, “There is no instant solution to such problems. If Nilesh promises never to repeat this mistake again, will you be satisfied?”
“Yes, I will be satisfied but suspicion will always remain there,” said Kavita.
“Tell us, how can we help you?” said she.
Kavita thought for a while, and then continued, “Nilesh should be, at least, made to realize that he is doing injustice to me.”
“Does he torture you in any other way, I mean, money and other things?” said she.
“Is this problem not enough that there is another woman in his life? I can’t sleep at night.”
She talked with Manisha in whispers. They had felt that suspicion was deeply embedded in her psyche and there was no proof of his disloyalty. It was necessary to clear that suspicion from Kavita’s mind but Kavita was not ready to listen to any suggestion.
After some time of silence, Kavita said, “Sumi, I will wait for a few days and if he does not change his ways, I will be compelled to take a strong decision.”
Sumi and Manisha tried their best to make Kavita understand but they knew that she was adamant. Somehow, they convinced her to go back home.
After that day, the frequency of Sumi’s visits to Manisha’s house increased. When Manisha’s would be out of station on his business tour, Sumi, Manisha, and Kavita met in Manisha’s apartment and talked for hours. Kavita always carried her complains with her. Even Sumi was somewhat convinced that Kavita’s husband, Nilesh, was really a bad man. Sumi had developed a kind of hatred towards a man whom she had never seen in her life.
In a few days, Sumi’s husband, Rupesh, came back after the completion of his training. One month after their marriage, Rupesh had to go abroad for six months, and as a result they had not been able to set up their house properly. Now, after his return, Sumi and Rupesh began to make a restart and most of the time they spent together.
Once in a while, Sumi met Manisha. She would ask about Kavita and her husband but the answer was always the same. Their relations were still strained.
In this way, one year passed. Rupesh was transferred to Delhi, and Sumi also resigned from her job in Mumbai and joined a new ad agency in Delhi.
Manisha was in contact and she would call her at least once in a week. Her husband, Anuj, whenever he visited Delhi, used to stay with them.
During one such visit, Sumi asked Anuj about Kavita. He said that Kavita had decided to stay away from her husband and for one year she had been living in her father’s house.
“Rupesh, I have to go to Goa for a photo shoot. I will be back in a week’s time. Do you have any plan of going out of station?” said Sumi to her husband.
Sumi had noticed that Rupesh had been indifferent to her for past few weeks. Their son Palash was five years old and it was not good that there should be any tension between husband and wife.
It was true that they were unable to give their time to their son because of their business assignments but it was not right. Sumi felt that there was a kind of frigidness in their relations.
Giving some instructions to her husband, Sumi picked her bag and started for the airport. When she was comfortably seated in her seat in the flight going to Goa, she heard a voice, “May I sit here?”
She moved her eyes in the direction of the voice and found handsome young man, about 40, smiling towards her.
“Oh…sure,” said she.
She was about to close her eyes when that man said, “Where are you flying to?”
She brought a smile on her face and said, “Mr. I believe, this plane is going to Goa.”
He laughed and said, “You have a very good sense of humour.”
Sumi returned the smile.
“If you don’t mind, may I take the liberty of saying something?” said he in a highly polished manner.
“Few women have this sense of humour.”
Sumi was flattered. She remained silent for a second and then said, “By the way, where are you going?”
Both laughed together.
Her co-passenger was a thorough gentleman. He had not asked anything personal about her. She had not crossed her limits of decency. Most of the conversation was very refined and formal. The plane landed and they said goodbyes to each other with smiles on their faces.
Mr. Fernandez was present in Goa to assist Sumi. He took Sumi to her hotel. Sumi ordered tea. She could not work without consuming a few cups of tea. She decided to go to the location the following day.
She found the bed very comfortable. No sooner had she tried to close her eyes, than the face of that co-passenger floated before her eyes.
After their marriage, Rupesh used to make her laugh. They would keep on chatting for hours but in a few years the things had changed. She did not know when she fell asleep.
When she woke up, it was 9:00 pm. She was hungry. First she decided to call the room service but suddenly she changed her mind. She got dressed quickly and reached the garden restaurant.
Hardly had she started exploring the menu at her table when she heard a voice, “May I sit here?”
It was the same voice. Yes, he was standing there, smiling towards him.
“You…here…”said she with slight hesitation.
“You must be thinking that I am stalking you but the fact is that I am also staying in this hotel. When I came down for dinner, I found most of the tables occupied but then my eyes fell on a table where a lady was sitting alone, so I decided to give her company,” he spoke fluently, pulling a chair away from the table.
“Oh…thank you very much. You saved me from boredom,” said Sumi, trying to be dramatic.
Gradually, we became more and more informal.
“I would be delighted to order dinner for you, tonight?” said he with his trade mark smile.
“Sure…but please order only edible things…I am a strict vegetarian,” said Sumi with a smile.
The time of well over two hours passed very happily. They talked about various things. It was a nice meeting and Sumi felt very happy. She was thankful to that gentleman.
In the course of their conversation, it transpired that he was going to stay there for five days. They promised to take dinner together the following night and said goodbyes.
Sumi felt very light when she entered her room. She was definitely pleased to have met him. They knew each other as human beings and not even names were made known to each other. Sumi wanted to know his room number and she picked intercom but she realized that she did not know his name.
The next day was passed in choosing the location for the photo shoot.
In the evening, Mr. Fernandez insisted on having dinner with his family but Sumi promised to have dinner with his family the following day.
She was curious in a very strange way.
She reached the garden restaurant before time. She was surprised to see that he was already present at the table.
He smiled and said, “Good evening, Madam.”
After that exchange of formalities, there followed a procession of topics and gossip supported by our laughter. She was unable to understand the cause of that attraction.
“You like wearing saris, don’t you?” said he very politely.
“Yes, I mostly wear cotton saris. I don’t like pants and blouse, etc.” said Sumi.
“Light colours suit you, especially this green colour,” he continued.
“Thanks for the compliment,” said Sumi with a shy smile on her face.
“Working women, generally, happen to be different…”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, they don’t have this sense of humour and wit,” said he very softly.
“Do you know many of them?” said Sumi in a hesitant tone of voice.
“Yes, I travel a lot and come across many women. Most of them have similar notion in their minds that a man in only interested in a woman only in his manly way,” said he.
Sumi clearly understood what he meant by that. She admired his honesty and began to compare him with her husband, and the husbands of her friends and other known women. He was definitely different.
They took their dinner in complete silence. There was a known pause which had emanated from their states of minds.
After the dinner, he ordered coffee and said, “What is your programme tomorrow?”
“I have to do photo shoot and then I have to take dinner with a family,” said Sumi, very well knowing that he had some definite plans for her.
“If you are free in the morning, I am going to the market. You can come with me because I have to buy a few gifts.”
“All right, I will be ready at 8:00 am. Does that suit you?” said Sumi.
“Very well. See you tomorrow. Goodbye for now,” said he and called the waiter for check.
That night it was difficult for Sumi to sleep. His face was dancing in front of her eyes. How different he was from other men?
They spent five days together and nothing happened which could create hard feelings. Sumi wanted to stay for a few more days but he had to go back to Mumbai.
It was so strange that neither he nor she had asked names of each other.
After the completion of their fifth dinner, he got up and gave her his visiting card. She kept that card in her purse.
Once in her room, she was a changed woman. She could not understand what had happened to her.
Suddenly, she remembered his card. She opened her purse and emptied it on the bed. There lay the visiting card with a name “Nilesh Malhotra”.
He was Kavita’s husband.