"Did you get that green bandhani saree from the laundary, Maa?"
Ritwika asked her mom who was peeling potatoes for dinner. Each peel fell like a limpless mass on the floor.
"Yes, i did. Must be lying right there in your cupboard. Take a closer look. And you are meeting Dhritiman this Sunday. We have invited the guy and his family over for lunch."
Neena chirped in with an expectant smile on lips, faint wrinkles surrounding her excited eyes.
"Maa, can't this wait? I am very scared, Maa. What if the decision is wrong? What if we are not meant for each other? I am shit scared of this whole marriage thing. And anyway chances of success rate of marriages in cities like these are so flimsy. Look at Sagarika aunty, Mahesh uncle. Can i not be unmarried and still be the same happy girl as i am today?"
Neena drew her daughter close to her and let her head rest in her lap. She caressed her forehead and said,"It is only because of all this literature shit that you have managed to become so sceptical and cynical in life. Look at Paa and me. Aren't we happy? And Ritwika, we are not asking you to marry the guy. Just meet him. That's it. If you like him and he likes you, only then we shall consider anything ahead. Besides, marriages are made in heaven and i am sure our lovely daughter will never be cheated for all her good deeds in life. You are unnecessarily getting apprehensive, beta. This happens. It happens to all of us. But it is not as bad as you imagine. And remember, Beta, however happy you seem today, you will need someone at some point in your life to share your happiness. Besides, these are pre-marital worries that all girls go through. Don't you worry. See how happy you would be after you meet that dashing Dhritiman! Did you know that the family has already read your books and articles? They are mightily impressed by your profile. I just wish things turn out fine. Dada and i also wish to finish our responsibility at the right time, beta. Afterall, we don't have a son who would take care of us in the old age. We want to settle things before it gets troublesome for either of us in later years."
Neena kissed her child on the forehead and watched her lovingly. How much she has grown! One never realises how daughters grow up till the time they are there at home. By the time they register their presence each day as temporary guests one realises how much of a progress they have made in the years to have fled past. Only yesterday it seemed she was handed over to her in the hospital. A mass of faint red rose and transparent flesh she looked. So fragile and vulnerable. The nurses in the hospital exclaimed over the bulky mass of hair she had at birth. Jet black. She was the same Ritwika today. Same jet black hair. The same transparent, don't-touch-me-and-dirty-me skin. How vulnerable and fragile she looked even today! She looked at her daughter with affection and motherly love longingly.
The pressure cooker whistled from the kitchen. Neena left Ritwika with a peck on her cheek.
"Maa, switch off the light and shut the door when you leave. I will come down for dinner after a nap."
Ritwika lay limp on the bed. Nothing seemed to soothe her. She felt like crying her gut out. She felt like scrapping each nerve, each tendon in her body and demolishing each bone in her. Her body ached so much. It seemed heavy with the very feeling of an inexplicable loss. Of some unexplained pain - the magnitude of which she could only feel and crave. How much she missed Vihans at the moment. She looked at the clock. It was half past eight. She should not call him up. No, she would not not call him up!
She let those tears pour out on her pillow, mat her hair and moisten her face. She imagined herself as Angelica and Ophelia and Juliet and Radha. But amidst all these, she did not feel wronged. And she did not feel wrong. That at once pleased her and stung her at the same time. How better it would have been had she been raped or cheated or both and had the luxury of feeling helpless! At least she would not have had the choice that she made for herself. How much better it would have been! Moments later she suddered at her own thought. She kept thinking and debating while she fell into a slur of sleep - still crying but in muted moistures now. Her hair strewn all over the pillow, cheeks red from the flush and the kohl melted all around her big, almond eyes. She let her hands hang loose and tried to take a short nap.
Vihans sat in his room watching the news on the revolution in Egypt and Libya float freely in the drawing room. His wife, Kritika, 35, a woman of slim and petite frame, lay knitting a rose-colored sweater for their first baby girl, Pihu. Kritika was a primary school teacher in Vasant Vihar. Vihans and Kritika's was a love marriage. The two Pahari families were instantly ready for the match. They couple had had their share of romance at college before Vihans realised that this was the woman who can fulfill him in all the respects. She was passably pretty, unassuming in her good manners, moderately sociable and cheerful. She was averagely good at communication but withdrew in her calm, listening mode around Vihans and his group's heavy ruminations around so many important things in and about the world. While for her the daily menu for her family, her dad's thirty first marriage anniversary etc mattered more, Vihans could only appreciate and find fulfillment in her stable and calm company. She knew that he would be the happiest to claim a soft spoken, not-to-eager-yet-educated girl as his wife. They tied the knot and had remained fidel till the last year when Ritwika happened to Vihans.
Not that Vihans did not love Kritika. He did. In fact, quite a lot. But while there was a bit of reverence and calmness in his love for her, there was an urgency and an impulse for this woman called Ritwika. The first time they shared the paper and the time table, he knew that the precise, to-the-point manner of the woman who smelt so delicious all the time was irresistible for him. And the fact that sex has no morals kept igniting the stealthy chemistry between them each time she crossed his path. Her open smile, her unpreventing manners and her free innocence about her own beauty announced her charms for him. In her chaste ways of even holding a cup of coffee mug oozed a sensuality beyond the typical feminine vanity he experienced all around. She had an air of unknowing and unaware charm about her. Something that did not know the implications on the hearts of men like Vihans.
And then it was that seminar on postcolonial studies. The joint paper that they worked on made them come far too close for the comfort of his primal desires for the taste of her skin. Ritwika looked at him while he explained the premise of his argument. And all the while he imaginatively kept exploring ways in which he could nibble at those innocently sensuous lips. She tried to explain what her take on Bhabha's theory was when he did not realise he had asked her out for coffee.
Ritwika gave him a quizzical expression. And the next thing he realised was his lips on hers. At first she resisted but later yielded herself onto his desires like a woman who knows her mind. Her hands felt the sinews on his shoulders and the veins on his arm while he explored her mouth and left her gasping for breath. Later, he could almost feel each pore on her bare, hot stomach and back become alive with his meandering hands inside the mauve cashmere kurta she let herself (un)wear for him that moment. The empty staff room and the dim twilight of the January sky hesitatingly curled in the room, washing the air with a mist- white sheen, a foggy film. Ritwika had tasted her first kiss and Vihans his first transgression post-marriage. After a few moments of an actual acknowledgement of this encounter, they could merely look at each other and after a while stare at one another with blank expressions. One laced with fulfilled guilt. One with a mixed apprehension. But both no longer unaware of the desires that had nursed in them for so long.
To be continued....