The sliver of heat that melts down your skin with each twist and turn in the warm quilt is too intoxicating to be left for any damn urgent lecture and any damn literary exploration early in the Delhi December morning. Ritwika strained her neck out of the blanketed quilt to check out Wednesday's schedule. Aaaargh! It was Shakespeare again. She had already bunked a couple of classes and today had an Internal Assessment meet with the same prof who took them up. She slid further below knowing fully well the inescapable bait of the warm recessses of the winter bed. Just then her phone rang. It was Mithya.
"Ritz you are dead? Did you get the flowers for Harshika?"
"Shit dude! No, i didn't. But i will. Where are you right now?"
Ritwika jumped out of the bed. She could not control that 'ouch!' at hitting the icy floor barefoot.
"At adda. And where are you?"
"In the hostel. Just coming over....mmmmm...and will ask the Chatel Pest guy to make a Carnation bouquet. Give me fifteen minutes flat."
Slipping into the easiest possible jeans within her hands' reach she could merely mumble through her phone.
"We aren't attending the morning class, right?"
"Of course not. Despite the fact that i have a tutorial with that female, we can't afford to. Where is the birthday lass?"
"Harsh is on her way. She would take another twenty minutes. Madam's car stuck at the usual red light at KG."
"Alright. Off i go for the flowers. See you soon."
Ritwika hastily brushed her teeth, splashed some water on her face, smudged some kohl on her still sleepy eyes and rushed down with her bag, tying her hair in a loose bun.
Chatel Pest was this classic place for students' jugaad. You could get the cheapest possible xerox shops, thesis producing machines, cigarettes to condoms, food to liquor, call girls to the tharkiest of guys...everything under the sun. Ritwika's gang had a full time fun checking out 'items' here for all sorts of ISCs(Interesting Sample Cases). Decent, chocolaty guys who were of course an NSP(Nayan Sukh Prapti)material but were better if they kept their mouths shut, the 'i-am-so-hot-and-you-are-so-lucky-looking-at-me' type absolute losers who kept bumping into them often. The 'Madamji-i-lobes-you' type breed who managed to find Ritwika anywhere and everywhere she went. The 'please-don't-ignore-my-itchy-crotch' type despos who somehow always hit on Mithya. The 'i-am-lost-in-the city-please-help-me-while-i-liberally-check-you-out' types who accosted Harshika all the time while the others from the gang were being visually raped, simultaneously. The girls had with time begun to ignore the 'male chauvinism in the larger patriarchal world order' of their feminism drunk classroom and had made themselves chummy with the Chatel Pest world of murky fun at their addas. How listlessly the afternoons spent themselves in the shady backyard of the college! Their adda was the definition of their debates, fights, raucous laughter and lots and lots of vision. Endless packets of maggi were liberally consumed, samosas thrust down the already choked oesophagus in competition, coffee mugs collected to count each day's quota deficit. How all these years would go back and make them misty eyed every now and then!
It was the last birthday that the gang would celebrate together. The last one before life would decide for each one them if the world is small or large enough for their endless dreams and commitments.
"Madam, one hundred and ten rupees."
Ritwika placed the money in his hands, smiled and left off with a thank you.
At the adda Mithya greeted her with the choicest of abuses at being late, at looking awful, at missing the time yet again and at being so so utterly obnoxious with her ways. Ritwika gave her a nastier look at realising the paucity of time on them, and together they hastily transformed the otherwise dirty looking place into the citadel of their celebration. Finally, they managed to give Harshika a decent surprise and themselves their last birthday celebration together perhaps. They hugged each other and watched the sky bloom into the cosy February sun, relishing the delicacy of a bunked classroom and the luxury of sips of vodka, smuggled from the security tests at the metro stations in their water bottles.
College had been so much fun! Ritwika could barely avoid a smile while she walked past the corridors of the same college as a lecturer today. Today was Mithya's birthday and she could feel each moment making her heart lump up with choked nostalgia as she longingly looked at the place, at their adda.
Mithya lived in a joint family. The atmosphere belied everything that could be called happy. By some false notion of and around the Ahuja's family name in the quarters at being the happiest big middle class family, the family had agreed to stick together by the simple logic that intense hatred bound each one of them. There were no communication except cold rivalries around property shares and personal grudges. Absolutely no references to each other except when the time came to pose for family pics at the senior Ahuja's strict instructions to do so. Mr. Ahuja was bedridden for sometime. All the two juniors could think off was to see him rest in peace forever so that they could share the plot, business and money among themselves and split at the earliest. The bone of contention was Mrs. Ahuja senior. She was a history in herself. More of her later.
The first son in the Ahuja family, Hrihant, bore a son who was settled in the US now, married to an Armenian Jew there. Mithya was the second son's daughter. According to the big, happy family, she was just at the ripe age to be gotten married. What more to a girl than a graduation degree from a branded college in Delhi? Despite her protests, they had managed to get her engaged to this guy settled in US. The guy's dad was Mithya's dad's business partner. Mithya's bua, paternal aunt, was also married off quite early too, when she was merely thirteen years of age. Thus, the Ahuja's had established themselves as not just a flourishing business family in the area but as an epitome of Indian family value systems and culture in a fast depleting age of the fast catching western models of life.
The Ahujas were into the garment business. Mr. Ahuja Senior married a rich, pretty girl of his station while he was only in the first year of his college - quite at the right age in the early eighties. It is said that his wife was diagnosed with cancer immediately after the delivery of her daughter, the youngest kid in the family. She left for her heavenly abode leaving behind two sons of sixteen and fourteen and an infant daughter. Mr. Ahuja did not intend to remarry until he was proposed and forced with tears to do so after six years of his wife's demise, by a poor family, who wanted to get rid of one his seven daughters. Mr. Ahuja was in his forties by this time. The girl he was to marry was merely twenty two. He agreed after a few deliberations, in the hope of helping the poor family wade through a crisis-ridden situation.
Mrs. Ahuja II, Swarnima, walked into an affluent house to be greeted by two grown up men, as her sons, almost equal to her age and a very quiet daughter of six. The only condition laid out to her was to keep adding to the glory and fame of the virtuous name of the Ahuja's. Rest was all to be managed by her as and how and when she wanted.
Swarnima was a very talented home maker. Within days she managed to get the household in order. She worshipped her 'sister', Mrs. Ahuja I, each morning before entering into the kitchen. Like a doting daughter-in-law she heeded to each command laid by her aging in-laws. She kept her daughter happy and prim with her motherly affection and love. No one ever raised any finger on her for her being a step-mother. She was the exemplum of motherhood and feminine love.
However, she craved to experience the joys of her 'own' motherhood, out of her own womb. She tried all possible ways to conceive with no results. Each month her tears washed away her hopes with the onset of cramps. The bloody sheets each month and with it the lost potential of her egg carried her to try almost every possible method to help her get that one surge of pregnant pleasure. Every night she suffered between the sheets. Every night she sensed her body repulse and recoil instantaneously by the old man's violent attempt at love. Every night she could barely muster her drained energy to wriggle herself free from his fat, hairy clutches. She bore all of this with the simple hope that one day a child shall free her of these abuses each night. One day she shall have the reason to stay away from this man under the pretext to nurse a baby, her own flesh and blood. That one such new life would promise her a temporary yet a blissful sojourn into a world much better than this dark night punctuated by her tortured moans and hurtful thrusts.
It was only after three years of afflicting all kinds of hormonal abuse on her body that she realised that Mr. Ahuja had had a vasectomy done much earlier. The emergency years and Mr. Sanjay's experiments had managed to make a lab rat of Mr. Ahuja too. Mr. Ahuja pleaded Swarnima to keep it a secret from her family in lieu of saving the family honour and name which could be maligned with the acknowledgement of a man in his forties of his inability to create endless mass of progenies with endless women he is supposed to and allowed to sleep with.
Swarnima was not just hurt. She was outraged. But she wasn't the one to give up. She wanted to have her revenge and have it within covers. And she did it. She bore the seeds of the Ahuja family via Hrihant, the eldest of Mr. Ahuja's son.
To be continued....