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A Little Less Imagined LOVE STORY

About Purnesh Bhattacharya

Purnesh Bhattacharya is a Creative Writer by profession. He had been in the advertising industry for 15 years. Currently holding the position of a Creative Director with a Mumbai based agency, he is an eager indulgent in my passion. As a winner of two advertising awards, he has always perceived advertising as a bold medium of storytelling. Purnesh a BA Graduate with Economics and also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Advertising and Public Relations. His hobbies include observation of human behavior, reading, writing, storytelling, swimming, photographing and driving long distances. His central area of interest revolves around his train journeys. He is an avid train traveler and published a series called #TrainSpotterUpdate on facebook. His dream is to set up a mentoring institute for aspiring and first time creative writers; he wants to work towards creating better storytellers for tomorrow.
Purnesh blogs at http://www.virtuousvociferous.blogspot.in

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Prologue

At the age of 41, I was still waiting for a self-reinvention of sorts to take place. Putting behind the statistics of dual divorce, I was busy seeking a little less imagined love story. And, Shunu Mashi wasted no time in putting one, right in the middle of my life.

But before Shunu Mashi’s best bold move of a lifetime, my life and I were doing absolutely fine. Having officially declared myself as single and available, I would visit the only proper pub in our neighbourhood. The pub, I preferred to call it the Central Hub of Mutual Mingling. Every time I stepped in, ‘I got lucky’. Well, stolen words from a girl, I’ve known and infrequently dated for a long time). The only purpose of going to this pub was to seek someone; could be a stranger, a known person, a foreigner.

 

Part 1

So, there came in Shunu Mashi. On a Sunday afternoon, after a hefty lunch of mutton biryani, when I had just made up my mind to sleep; there came in Shunu Mashi.

She made her debut with the opening sequence of – ‘Wake up. Mr Lazy Bones’.

Sounds audacious. Isn’t it? She is talking to a 41-year-old extremely potential bachelor like me. There’s a reason behind this audacity of hers.

After my parents met with a car accident and never returned home, Shunu Mashi took over the moral responsibility of bringing me up singlehandedly. My father had left heaps of wealth behind. So I never thought of taking up a job. But I kept investing and reinvesting the saved wealth to earn higher returns. Shunu Mashi became the custodian of me; the almost gone haywire me.

Throughout her life, she had worked with innumerable NGOs. But recently she had launched her own venture. Oops. Shunu Mashi would kill me, if she heard it again. Errr… recently she had started her own NGO. When she was in need of a name, I proposed some options. Out of the five tooth breaking names, she chose ‘Hopefully Yours’.

I had never seen her so happy. Through ‘Hopefully Yours’, she had made a name for herself and was soon referred to as the local version of Mother Teresa.

So, here was Mother Teresa… oops, here was Shunu Mashi.

‘Wake up. Mr Lazy Bones’, Shunu Mashi screamed into my ears and left no stone unturned to leave me deaf for life.

‘Shunu Mashi. On a Sunday afternoon. What brings you here?’ I asked with the whole world of Sunday sleep in my eyes.

‘I’ve found an ideal match for you. It’s high time, you settle down’, said Shunu Mashi in an authoritative tone.

I reacted in a supercool mood, ‘Marriage. Not again. It’s not my mug of beer. Sorry Mashi. It’s not my cup of tea anymore.’

Shunu Mashi continued further, ‘Why would that be? Ever since that pub has opened up, you’ve been spending more time in there and less time back home. Check your Whatsapp now. I’ve sent a photograph of the ideal match.’

‘She’s pretty’, I thought. But I didn’t allow this voice of excitement to negotiate a release from my mouth.

Shunu Mashi kept staring at my face. Before I could convey my consent, off she went; all she left was an echo of the words – I will be back next week and get her along.

After a long time, I too skipped going to the Central Hub of Mutual Mingling. No, I don’t think so I was in love. But I think, I felt better. I felt a little less used and a lot more important; for still being a considerably prospective, eligible bachelor.

A week went by but Shunu Mashi didn’t show up. There was no reason for me to grow restless with regards to her disappearance. ‘Hopefully Yours’ was keeping her too busy. But my 41 year old self had started thinking like a virgin again. Words like ‘settle down’ had made the mind of a long time single guy like me go crazy. Unable to contain the iota of excitement, I dialled Shunu Mashi’s number. She had put her phone on an auto response mode. Throughout the day, I tried calling her at least on three different occasions. But Shunu Mashi seemed to have gone underground. I started preparing to retire for the bed. Just then, from a distance I saw Shunu Mashi’s car pull in. The left part of which seemed to have suffered a dent. Shunu Mashi stepped out. I rushed towards her enquiring, ‘Is everything fine with you?’

Shunu Mashi spoke with a drop of pain in her voice, ‘I am fine. I am happy to see that you were excited to see me. So my boy is ready to settle down?’

‘Stop it Shunu Mashi. Your car seems to have suffered a dent. By any chance, did you meet with an accident?’ I asked all of that in one breath.

Shunu Mashi smiled again and said, ‘I am fine. Trust me, I am fine.’

After she closed the door of the car behind, she called her out by her first name, ‘Radhika, we are here. Please step out carefully. Look who is here to fetch us. Right here at the doorstep.’

 

Part 2

The door opened on the other side. I crossed over to catch the first glimpse of my supposedly third life partner. Little did I know that the moment she would step out, my life would run out of all the imaginations of a love story. The so called Radhika was going to change the course of the 41 year old Jatin’s life.

I extended my hand. Radhika held it gently. She stepped out. From the dark hollow of the car, a five month pregnant Radhika stepped out gently. Just four months away from delivering her first child, Radhika smiled at me. Trust me, her smile had a melting effect. But her baby bump struck me like a lightning. I didn’t utter a word. In my immediate actions, I had to act courteous and my feelings were supposed to exude warmth. I was trying too hard. But I was failing repeatedly. Shunu Mashi was watching me and my disturbed camaraderie with Radhika.

After dinner, Shunu Mashi asked Radhika to retire into the same room, which she would occupy while visiting me. After Radhika closed the door behind her, I couldn’t hold my feelings back and almost charged towards Shunu Mashi demanding justification for her action. Shunu Mashi sat there unmoved. My first question was followed by a second one; the second one was followed by a third one; the third one was followed by a repetition of the first two questions. Even though I wanted to calm down and wasn’t able to appreciate my behaviour with Shunu Mashi; somewhere, I felt I was torn inside.

Shunu Mashi finally spoke up, ‘Jatin, if you wish to punish me, please feel free to do so. I just thought that you don’t deserve to be lonely.’

I retaliated, ‘Oh. So nice of you. Since you felt I don’t deserve to be lonely, you brought home a prospective bride; also four months pregnant. At least, I think she is four months pregnant. And whose child is she carrying in her womb? Tell me Shunu Mashi. Why aren’t you happy to see me being lonely and happy now? Tell me Mashi, why are you so quiet now?’

It felt like Shunu Mashi had lost her voice. But she was firm enough to take a momentary pause and speak up again.

‘Jatin. Are you aware that you are all of 41 now? Yes that’s the reality. And before you cut me out of this conversation, I am warning you not to interrupt me. I will speak this time over. I wish to share my side of the story too. Yes, I brought Radhika home. You are right, she is four months pregnant. And by next month, she will be five months pregnant. Since I had recommended that you settle down, your actions are obvious as well that you had expected a virgin girl to come your way. By looks, you might not look too aged, Jatin. But the reality is, tomorrow you are going to age. You are lucky to age graciously. I would only pray to God to bless you with much more grace. I don’t know, if you had decided to get married or not. But as your guardian or a so called elder member of the family, I thought, I can’t allow you to ruin your life’, Shunu Mashi concluded.

I spoke up again, ‘But it’s my life Shunu Mashi.’

‘Of course, it is your life Jatin. This is your life. This is that same life of yours, which saw two young women come by and depart like a whiff of wind. The first one didn’t wish to start a family. And the second one fled from the scene. The failure of your second marriage was your reckless behaviour. I don’t know how, out of nowhere you wanted to start living a hippies’ life. How is it possible for a wife to tolerate that kind of a behaviour? Didn’t you leave your job, the home and your wife alone to start living like a hermit on some God damned island? What happened thereafter? Don’t you remember, Jatin? You had a stormy affair with some stranger with signs of no return. You kept your wife waiting for nothing. Finally she gave up. She gave up on you, Jatin. You made the world blame her for the debacle of your second marriage. But it was you, who ruined it’, Shunu Mashi replied.

 

Part 3

I was stunned by her ways of taking the conversation ahead. Shunu Mashi spoke again, ‘Jatin. Listen to me. It’s time to begin a new life. Wake up from where you had slept and made your mind sleep as well. Throw off the blanket. Wake up Jatin. Just because she is pregnant, you are making a fuss. Or are you making a fuss because you don’t know who impregnated her. Neither do I know it. I just wish to say that Radhika will ensure peace in your life. She will reinstate the calm, you’ve been seeking for life.’

I asked Shunu Mashi, ‘Who exactly is the father of the kid?’

‘What difference does it make?’ asked Shunu Mashi.

‘Isn’t this absurd Shunu Mashi?’ I asked with loads of anger in my tone.

‘Yes, I know it’s absurd and I will leave it up to you to decide. I indeed feel thankful to you for having reacted this way. You are like my own child, Jatin.’ said Shunu Mashi.

‘Stop saying that Shunu Mashi. No mother would ever do this to her child’, I objected.
The heated debate had reached the interiors of the room Radhika was asleep in. The moment our argument hit a momentary pause, Shunu Mashi and I raised our heads to see Radhika standing near the door. Before any of us could react; Radhika fainted. She fainted with a loud thud.

We rushed an unconscious Radhika to the hospital. The doctor reprimanded Shunu Mashi and me for being ignorant. I was filled with more guilt because I had made it a bit more severe. I was feeling the pressure rise on me. The doctor seemed worried about the health of the mother and the child in the womb. We were asked to patiently wait. The doctors were going to keep Radhika under observation for 24 hours. Shunu Mashi and I decided to stay back at the hospital. After hours of being awake, Shunu Mashi had slipped into a slumber. But I was awake. I was revising in my mind, the series of events, which had taken place in the due course of the day.

The next morning, we were awakened by the doctor calling out for us. I walked towards Shunu Mashi to wake her up. She didn’t seem to respond to my pat on her shoulder. I tried to pat a little strongly. But there was no response. I asked the doctor to check if she had fainted because of stress. The doctor placed his hand on her forearm. He didn’t feel a pulse. Then he tried opening Shunu Mashi’s eyes. There was no response.

Shunu Mashi was no more!

The doctor had declared her dead. Shunu Mashi had succumbed to a cardiac arrest. Her demise had left many questions unanswered. Radhika was still asleep in her ward. I requested the doctor to not disturb her at all. The hospital took some time to release Mashi’s dead body. Being a reputed hospital, they made sure that there was no foul play involved. I could only think of the possible accident that Shunu Mashi and Radhika had merely escaped the previous day. Was death on a hunting spree?

By the end of the day, with the help of few friends and the hospital staff, I carried out the last rites of Shunu Mashi in a nearby crematorium. By the time I returned, Radhika was sitting awake on her bed. On seeing me, her eyes welled up. I couldn’t hold my emotions back.

Now this is what happens with this 41 year old me; the emotional Jatin had now decided to take it up from here. As Shunu Mashi had wished, Radhika and I tied the knot. We didn’t have much guests attending the event. Radhika wanted to keep it simple. I wished to keep it under wraps. Well, being Jatin that I was, being confused comes by default. The only change I made was to my WhatsApp status, which now read – Jatin weds Radhika.
You must be thinking, I didn’t even ask Radhika about who might have impregnated her. Well, before I could pop that question; she spoke up.

‘Jatin. I know this isn’t easy for you. Shunu Mashi too knew to some extent that this might be unacceptable to you. At the same time, she was of the opinion that you are mature enough to understand. I know, I am pregnant. No man would accept a pregnant woman to be his wife. I am pregnant. I am carrying the child of my lover; a much married man that he was. First he proposed marriage to me, then lured me into a physical relationship. I was foolish to believe him and the moment I conceived, he disappeared. Till date, I don’t know where he is. I did locate his home. I tried convincing him to accept me. But he kicked me out. After that, I never saw him. I am not even aware; if he is dead or alive. I am sorry Jatin. I might end up being a burden on you. But please don’t abandon me. Please don’t throw me out of this marriage. Shunu Mashi’s NGO took care of me when I had almost attempted suicide. I am awake because of her and because of her NGO – Hopefully Yours.’

 

Part 4

The words, ‘Hopefully Yours’ didn’t sound like the name of an NGO anymore. It sounded like the plea of a broken lover to her newly-wed torn life partner. After what Radhika said, I was left wondering about the love story, I was left to less imagine about.

Radhika and I were married now. We were supposed to live and behave like husband and wife. We were supposed to love each other. I tried my level best to fall in love with Radhika. But I couldn’t. On the contrary, Radhika seemed to be falling in love with me every single day.

Even though, the marriage was somewhat forced, I did have my weak moments as well. On many occasions, I had taken Radhika’s hand in mine. On certain instances, she had tried coming closer and kissed me as well. We had nothing between us but that baby bump of hers. Every time, we came closer, Radhika’s enlarging bump made things a little more complicated.

Radhika and I were doing fine until on one of the nights in her eighth month, she complained of immense pain. I had to rush her back to the same hospital, where she was admitted upon fainting. While she was being treated inside, I stared at the corridor outside. It was there that Shunu Mashi had taken her last breath; leaving millions of questions unanswered. The doctor informed that Radhika needed special attention and had to be kept under observation for 24 hours. I decided to stay back and grab some sleep. When I was asleep on the bench, I felt I saw Shunu Mashi seated right there on the same chair. I woke up and went towards Shunu Mashi. She gently moved her hand over my head and thanked me for giving Radhika a new life. I opened my eyes suddenly; only to see that Shunu Mashi was gone. And this was supposed to be like a dream sequence for the moment.

The next day, Radhika was discharged from the hospital. But the doctor held me back for some while and informed me that Radhika required special care. A nurse could be of greater help. The doctor assured me of extending help and promised to send a nurse to our home. After a week’s time, the doorbell rang. A woman in her 30’s stood there. Radhika was asleep in the bedroom. I invited her in. She stepped in and asked if she could meet the patient. She informed that she was a nurse. Since I had requested the doctor to help me, she had been sent.

Within a month’s time and till the time Radhika delivered a cute little girl child, Suhani continued staying with us, in the capacity of Radhika’s nurse. Over a period of time, Suhani graduated from being a nurse to our house help. Equations between the three of us had changed too. Somewhere within the heart of this 41 year old evolved husband, Suhani was fast making inroads. At least I thought so. Suhani never made it too apparent through her actions.

But let me tell you, Radhika amused me. What kind of a human being she was? I mean, didn’t she sense that I could be caught red-handed on grounds of infidelity. Trust me, I wasn’t as much in love with Radhika, as I was wanting to fall in love with Suhani. Or was I too much in love with Radhika and wanted to negate the feeling by forcibly falling in love with Suhani. But Suhani was beautifully, effortlessly winning my heart. You might ask, as to how I, the much married man was falling for Suhani. Don’t you know that I wanted to experience a less imagined love story? But this was growing way too unimaginable and out of control as well.

On regular occasions that I would take Radhika for her doctor visits, I would get to spend a lot of time talking to Suhani. Many a times, I had caught a glimpse of Radhika staring at me from a distance, while I was speaking to Suhani. And still she didn’t utter a word. I was left confused as to whether I should hate Radhika for this habit of hers or simply love her for being ignorant on purpose. Then my eyes would fall upon that little girl, we had fondly named Tara. Every time, I saw her, she melted my heart as well. I cuddled her. The feelings of fatherhood in me made its own twists and turns. But no matter how closely I wished to shower love on Tara; I couldn’t.

 

Part 5

At times, I would stare at Shunu Mashi’s garlanded photograph. Radhika revered her like a Goddess. Suhani would at times stare emotionally too. I would stare at Shunu Mashi with emptiness. No matter how seriously I wished to stay honest to Radhika, it was because of lust or maybe love, I couldn’t take Suhani out of my mind.

On one such weak evening, while Radhika was out for a stroll in the garden with Tara in her arms, I went looking for Suhani.

I saw her seated at the veranda watching Radhika strolling through. Quietly I whispered, ‘Suhani, don’t you wish to have a family of your own?’

‘Yes, I always wished for a family, Jatin. Did I tell you, I was married too?’ spoke Suhani.
I was dumbstruck. All I wanted to convey to Suhani was that I loved her. Or I was falling in love with her. But Suhani had changed the track. She was revealing a strange track record of hers and I was playing the role of a listener.

‘Yes Jatin. I was married. I know, when I arrived as nurse at this residence, Radhika and you were already married. I was being the much desired intruder who could have made you happy while Radhika was pregnant. Don’t tell me that this thought never crossed your mind, Jatin. Rightly imagined by you, I was very much available. My heart skipped a beat too when I saw you. But Jatin, I was here for a reason. I would want to tell you something, which Radhika shouldn’t know ever’, said Suhani.

‘But what is it all about?’ I asked.

‘Jatin. Would you believe if I tell you, Radhika and my life were ruined at the same time? I wish to tell you Jatin, please don’t ruin Radhika’s life any more. I feel indebted to her. You should feel indebted to her. Because of her, we are still having this conversation. Had it been some other woman, do you think, she could have accepted us being found together; speaking to each other?’ asked Suhani.

I replied with a dry throat, ‘Nope. I don’t think so.’

‘Look at her. Radhika is a Goddess. Do you remember the day when Radhika and your Shunu Mashi had arrived together?’ asked Suhani.

Yes, I did remember the day. The car had a dent. And I was worried. How can I forget the day? My life changed forever.

‘Jatin. Radhika and Shunu Mashi would have died in that accident. Do you know how the car got that dent?’ asked Suhani.

‘No. I don’t Suhani’, I replied.

‘It was my husband who wanted to kill them both. Radhika was betrayed by my much married husband. He had lured her into a relationship when Radhika was working with his company as an administrative assistant. I was already fed up of his womanising ways. But when I came to know about Radhika’s plight, I was left heartbroken. My husband had betrayed years of my devotion. I may not have been able to conceive. But that wasn’t the reason which led to his weird ways of exploiting women. My incapability of producing a child only gave him an opportunity to exploit women. Besides Radhika, he had exploited many others. I had sealed my lips. But one day, Radhika came knocking on the door. Before I could open it, he woke up; slammed the door on my face and headed for the main door. From the jarred space of the door, for the first time I saw Radhika fall on her feet and pleading to be accepted. He kicked her out of the home, walked straight into the bedroom and tried overpowering me. But I foiled his attempt. Thankfully he was drunk enough to doze off the moment I hit him hard down under. I immediately stepped out of home and tried looking for Radhika. Just then, I saw her waiving at passing vehicles on the main road and faint suddenly. It was your Shunu Mashi who had then stopped her car and took Radhika in. I was left feeling a bit at ease for some while. She had someone to care for’, explained Suhani.

I was left so stunned, it was difficult for me to even bat an eyelid. By that time, I couldn’t even react when I saw Radhika quietly walk towards the veranda and caressing Tara with love.

 

Part 6

Suhani continued, ‘Jatin. My husband was a monster. He was not done with Radhika. I realized, he was stalking her. After three weeks of stalking her, he had spotted Radhika at the care centre of ‘Hopefully Yours’. Then one day my husband came home; asked me if I would want to accompany him for a long drive. The proposition sounded too weird. He had never shown such keen interest in me, except in the first two years of our marriage. We drove at a relaxed pace till at a junction, my husband happened to spot Shunu Mashi’s car. Radhika was seated in too. On spotting them, my husband accelerated the speed of our car, and without bothering about me seated beside him, he straight away tried colliding with Shunu Mashi’s car. Thankfully he missed hitting them. Their speeding car just suffered a dent. While our car turned around vigorously. A truck followed and overthrew our car on the other side of the road. My husband died instantly. I was miraculously left unhurt. I wanted to escape unnoticed. Abandoning our destroyed car and a dead husband, I followed the same road that Radhika’s car had taken the turn for. I walked, I kept walking till I came across your home and saw the car being parked here.’

I asked Suhani, ‘but you are a nurse. Aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I am a nurse. I held a degree. When you were rushing Radhika to the hospital, I followed you in an auto rickshaw. On reaching, you had left Shunu Mashi waiting at the corridor. For the few hours that you were away tending to Radhika with the help of doctor, I got the opportunity to approach Shunu Mashi. But from a distance I could see she was panting for breath. By the time, I could have a word with her, you arrived and she had fallen asleep. The next morning, I came back in search of you both. But I was shocked to know that Shunu Mashi had succumbed to a cardiac arrest,’ clarified Suhani.

By this time Radhika had taken a seat beside me. Tara had fallen asleep. I looked at her with all the love, I had never felt for her and was still wanting to guess if Suhani was eligible to earn my love as well.

‘I waited for an opportunity. There was a debt I had to repay. My husband had impregnated Radhika. I waited for an opportunity. I took up a job in the same hospital, to which you and Radhika would visit regularly for check-ups. On that day when she fainted and the doctor advised that you hire a nurse; I knew my time had come. I had overheard your conversation. The same day, I decided to walk in as Radhika’s nurse. Spending time with her, with you and the baby on its way, I felt my life was now complete. I had initially decided to leave the day, Radhika delivered. But seeing Tara’s face, I couldn’t move an inch. Radhika had carried her in her womb. The same womb, which was left insulted by my monster husband. At the same time, I fell in love with this new family of yours, Jatin’, concluded Suhani.

Radhika’s eyes had welled up. I was left with unimaginable emotions about the moment. Somewhere in the deepest corner of my heart, I felt like hugging Suhani for once. But as destiny had it, I turned towards Radhika, stared deep in her eyes and hugged her tightly. I saw Suhani leave quietly. She did leave a void in our lives and the household.

After Suhani’s departure, Radhika and I never spoke about the past. Tara was growing fast. I had taken the reins of Shunu Mashi’s NGO in my control. Life had changed again. After a period of one month, when I was supervising the cleaning process of the room Suhani had occupied, I came across a note. This note carried Suhani’s handwriting, in which she had written – Only if Jatin could have been mine, today this could have been our story.

I crumpled the note between my palms and bounced it straight into the dustbin. I did think of Suhani again. Just then Radhika came in and asked, ‘What are you thinking of?’

I replied, ‘Nothing. Just a little less imagined love story’.

At the age of 41, I was still waiting for a self-reinvention of sorts to take place. Putting behind the statistics of dual divorce, I was busy seeking a little less imagined love story. And, Shunu Mashi wasted no time in putting one, right in the middle of my life.

But before Shunu Mashi’s best bold move of a lifetime, my life and I were doing absolutely fine. Having officially declared myself as single and available, I would visit the only proper pub in our neighbourhood. The pub, I preferred to call it the Central Hub of Mutual Mingling. Every time I stepped in, ‘I got lucky’. Well, stolen words from a girl, I’ve known and infrequently dated for a long time). The only purpose of going to this pub was to seek someone; could be a stranger, a known person, a foreigner.

So, there came in Shunu Mashi. On a Sunday afternoon, after a hefty lunch of mutton biryani, when I had just made up my mind to sleep; there came in Shunu Mashi.

She made her debut with the opening sequence of – ‘Wake up. Mr Lazy Bones’.

Sounds audacious. Isn’t it? She is talking to a 41-year-old extremely potential bachelor like me. There’s a reason behind this audacity of hers.

After my parents met with a car accident and never returned home, Shunu Mashi took over the moral responsibility of bringing me up singlehandedly. My father had left heaps of wealth behind. So I never thought of taking up a job. But I kept investing and reinvesting the saved wealth to earn higher returns. Shunu Mashi became the custodian of me; the almost gone haywire me.

Throughout her life, she had worked with innumerable NGOs. But recently she had launched her own venture. Oops. Shunu Mashi would kill me, if she heard it again. Errr… recently she had started her own NGO. When she was in need of a name, I proposed some options. Out of the five tooth breaking names, she chose ‘Hopefully Yours’.

I had never seen her so happy. Through ‘Hopefully Yours’, she had made a name for herself and was soon referred to as the local version of Mother Teresa.

So, here was Mother Teresa… oops, here was Shunu Mashi.

‘Wake up. Mr Lazy Bones’, Shunu Mashi screamed into my ears and left no stone unturned to leave me deaf for life.

‘Shunu Mashi. On a Sunday afternoon. What brings you here?’ I asked with the whole world of Sunday sleep in my eyes.

‘I’ve found an ideal match for you. It’s high time, you settle down’, said Shunu Mashi in an authoritative tone.

I reacted in a supercool mood, ‘Marriage. Not again. It’s not my mug of beer. Sorry Mashi. It’s not my cup of tea anymore.’

Shunu Mashi continued further, ‘Why would that be? Ever since that pub has opened up, you’ve been spending more time in there and less time back home. Check your Whatsapp now. I’ve sent a photograph of the ideal match.’

‘She’s pretty’, I thought. But I didn’t allow this voice of excitement to negotiate a release from my mouth.

Shunu Mashi kept staring at my face. Before I could convey my consent, off she went; all she left was an echo of the words – I will be back next week and get her along.

After a long time, I too skipped going to the Central Hub of Mutual Mingling. No, I don’t think so I was in love. But I think, I felt better. I felt a little less used and a lot more important; for still being a considerably prospective, eligible bachelor.

A week went by but Shunu Mashi didn’t show up. There was no reason for me to grow restless with regards to her disappearance. ‘Hopefully Yours’ was keeping her too busy. But my 41 year old self had started thinking like a virgin again. Words like ‘settle down’ had made the mind of a long time single guy like me go crazy. Unable to contain the iota of excitement, I dialled Shunu Mashi’s number. She had put her phone on an auto response mode. Throughout the day, I tried calling her at least on three different occasions. But Shunu Mashi seemed to have gone underground. I started preparing to retire for the bed. Just then, from a distance I saw Shunu Mashi’s car pull in. The left part of which seemed to have suffered a dent. Shunu Mashi stepped out. I rushed towards her enquiring, ‘Is everything fine with you?’

Shunu Mashi spoke with a drop of pain in her voice, ‘I am fine. I am happy to see that you were excited to see me. So my boy is ready to settle down?’

‘Stop it Shunu Mashi. Your car seems to have suffered a dent. By any chance, did you meet with an accident?’ I asked all of that in one breath.

Shunu Mashi smiled again and said, ‘I am fine. Trust me, I am fine.’

After she closed the door of the car behind, she called her out by her first name, ‘Radhika, we are here. Please step out carefully. Look who is here to fetch us. Right here at the doorstep.’

To Be Continued in Part 2….

The door opened on the other side. I crossed over to catch the first glimpse of my supposedly third life partner. Little did I know that the moment she would step out, my life would run out of all the imaginations of a love story. The so called Radhika was going to change the course of the 41 year old Jatin’s life.

I extended my hand. Radhika held it gently. She stepped out. From the dark hollow of the car, a five month pregnant Radhika stepped out gently. Just four months away from delivering her first child, Radhika smiled at me. Trust me, her smile had a melting effect. But her baby bump struck me like a lightning. I didn’t utter a word. In my immediate actions, I had to act courteous and my feelings were supposed to exude warmth. I was trying too hard. But I was failing repeatedly. Shunu Mashi was watching me and my disturbed camaraderie with Radhika.

After dinner, Shunu Mashi asked Radhika to retire into the same room, which she would occupy while visiting me. After Radhika closed the door behind her, I couldn’t hold my feelings back and almost charged towards Shunu Mashi demanding justification for her action. Shunu Mashi sat there unmoved. My first question was followed by a second one; the second one was followed by a third one; the third one was followed by a repetition of the first two questions. Even though I wanted to calm down and wasn’t able to appreciate my behaviour with Shunu Mashi; somewhere, I felt I was torn inside.

Shunu Mashi finally spoke up, ‘Jatin, if you wish to punish me, please feel free to do so. I just thought that you don’t deserve to be lonely.’

I retaliated, ‘Oh. So nice of you. Since you felt I don’t deserve to be lonely, you brought home a prospective bride; also four months pregnant. At least, I think she is four months pregnant. And whose child is she carrying in her womb? Tell me Shunu Mashi. Why aren’t you happy to see me being lonely and happy now? Tell me Mashi, why are you so quiet now?’

It felt like Shunu Mashi had lost her voice. But she was firm enough to take a momentary pause and speak up again.

‘Jatin. Are you aware that you are all of 41 now? Yes that’s the reality. And before you cut me out of this conversation, I am warning you not to interrupt me. I will speak this time over. I wish to share my side of the story too. Yes, I brought Radhika home. You are right, she is four months pregnant. And by next month, she will be five months pregnant. Since I had recommended that you settle down, your actions are obvious as well that you had expected a virgin girl to come your way. By looks, you might not look too aged, Jatin. But the reality is, tomorrow you are going to age. You are lucky to age graciously. I would only pray to God to bless you with much more grace. I don’t know, if you had decided to get married or not. But as your guardian or a so called elder member of the family, I thought, I can’t allow you to ruin your life’, Shunu Mashi concluded.

I spoke up again, ‘But it’s my life Shunu Mashi.’

‘Of course, it is your life Jatin. This is your life. This is that same life of yours, which saw two young women come by and depart like a whiff of wind. The first one didn’t wish to start a family. And the second one fled from the scene. The failure of your second marriage was your reckless behaviour. I don’t know how, out of nowhere you wanted to start living a hippies’ life. How is it possible for a wife to tolerate that kind of a behaviour? Didn’t you leave your job, the home and your wife alone to start living like a hermit on some God damned island? What happened thereafter? Don’t you remember, Jatin? You had a stormy affair with some stranger with signs of no return. You kept your wife waiting for nothing. Finally she gave up. She gave up on you, Jatin. You made the world blame her for the debacle of your second marriage. But it was you, who ruined it’, Shunu Mashi replied.

To Be Continued in Part 3…

I was stunned by her ways of taking the conversation ahead. Shunu Mashi spoke again, ‘Jatin. Listen to me. It’s time to begin a new life. Wake up from where you had slept and made your mind sleep as well. Throw off the blanket. Wake up Jatin. Just because she is pregnant, you are making a fuss. Or are you making a fuss because you don’t know who impregnated her. Neither do I know it. I just wish to say that Radhika will ensure peace in your life. She will reinstate the calm, you’ve been seeking for life.’

I asked Shunu Mashi, ‘Who exactly is the father of the kid?’

‘What difference does it make?’ asked Shunu Mashi.

‘Isn’t this absurd Shunu Mashi?’ I asked with loads of anger in my tone.

‘Yes, I know it’s absurd and I will leave it up to you to decide. I indeed feel thankful to you for having reacted this way. You are like my own child, Jatin.’ said Shunu Mashi.

‘Stop saying that Shunu Mashi. No mother would ever do this to her child’, I objected.
The heated debate had reached the interiors of the room Radhika was asleep in. The moment our argument hit a momentary pause, Shunu Mashi and I raised our heads to see Radhika standing near the door. Before any of us could react; Radhika fainted. She fainted with a loud thud.

We rushed an unconscious Radhika to the hospital. The doctor reprimanded Shunu Mashi and me for being ignorant. I was filled with more guilt because I had made it a bit more severe. I was feeling the pressure rise on me. The doctor seemed worried about the health of the mother and the child in the womb. We were asked to patiently wait. The doctors were going to keep Radhika under observation for 24 hours. Shunu Mashi and I decided to stay back at the hospital. After hours of being awake, Shunu Mashi had slipped into a slumber. But I was awake. I was revising in my mind, the series of events, which had taken place in the due course of the day.

The next morning, we were awakened by the doctor calling out for us. I walked towards Shunu Mashi to wake her up. She didn’t seem to respond to my pat on her shoulder. I tried to pat a little strongly. But there was no response. I asked the doctor to check if she had fainted because of stress. The doctor placed his hand on her forearm. He didn’t feel a pulse. Then he tried opening Shunu Mashi’s eyes. There was no response.

Shunu Mashi was no more!

The doctor had declared her dead. Shunu Mashi had succumbed to a cardiac arrest. Her demise had left many questions unanswered. Radhika was still asleep in her ward. I requested the doctor to not disturb her at all. The hospital took some time to release Mashi’s dead body. Being a reputed hospital, they made sure that there was no foul play involved. I could only think of the possible accident that Shunu Mashi and Radhika had merely escaped the previous day. Was death on a hunting spree?

By the end of the day, with the help of few friends and the hospital staff, I carried out the last rites of Shunu Mashi in a nearby crematorium. By the time I returned, Radhika was sitting awake on her bed. On seeing me, her eyes welled up. I couldn’t hold my emotions back.

Now this is what happens with this 41 year old me; the emotional Jatin had now decided to take it up from here. As Shunu Mashi had wished, Radhika and I tied the knot. We didn’t have much guests attending the event. Radhika wanted to keep it simple. I wished to keep it under wraps. Well, being Jatin that I was, being confused comes by default. The only change I made was to my WhatsApp status, which now read – Jatin weds Radhika.
You must be thinking, I didn’t even ask Radhika about who might have impregnated her. Well, before I could pop that question; she spoke up.

‘Jatin. I know this isn’t easy for you. Shunu Mashi too knew to some extent that this might be unacceptable to you. At the same time, she was of the opinion that you are mature enough to understand. I know, I am pregnant. No man would accept a pregnant woman to be his wife. I am pregnant. I am carrying the child of my lover; a much married man that he was. First he proposed marriage to me, then lured me into a physical relationship. I was foolish to believe him and the moment I conceived, he disappeared. Till date, I don’t know where he is. I did locate his home. I tried convincing him to accept me. But he kicked me out. After that, I never saw him. I am not even aware; if he is dead or alive. I am sorry Jatin. I might end up being a burden on you. But please don’t abandon me. Please don’t throw me out of this marriage. Shunu Mashi’s NGO took care of me when I had almost attempted suicide. I am awake because of her and because of her NGO – Hopefully Yours.’

To Be Continued in Part 4…

The words, ‘Hopefully Yours’ didn’t sound like the name of an NGO anymore. It sounded like the plea of a broken lover to her newly-wed torn life partner. After what Radhika said, I was left wondering about the love story, I was left to less imagine about.

Radhika and I were married now. We were supposed to live and behave like husband and wife. We were supposed to love each other. I tried my level best to fall in love with Radhika. But I couldn’t. On the contrary, Radhika seemed to be falling in love with me every single day.

Even though, the marriage was somewhat forced, I did have my weak moments as well. On many occasions, I had taken Radhika’s hand in mine. On certain instances, she had tried coming closer and kissed me as well. We had nothing between us but that baby bump of hers. Every time, we came closer, Radhika’s enlarging bump made things a little more complicated.

Radhika and I were doing fine until on one of the nights in her eighth month, she complained of immense pain. I had to rush her back to the same hospital, where she was admitted upon fainting. While she was being treated inside, I stared at the corridor outside. It was there that Shunu Mashi had taken her last breath; leaving millions of questions unanswered. The doctor informed that Radhika needed special attention and had to be kept under observation for 24 hours. I decided to stay back and grab some sleep. When I was asleep on the bench, I felt I saw Shunu Mashi seated right there on the same chair. I woke up and went towards Shunu Mashi. She gently moved her hand over my head and thanked me for giving Radhika a new life. I opened my eyes suddenly; only to see that Shunu Mashi was gone. And this was supposed to be like a dream sequence for the moment.

The next day, Radhika was discharged from the hospital. But the doctor held me back for some while and informed me that Radhika required special care. A nurse could be of greater help. The doctor assured me of extending help and promised to send a nurse to our home. After a week’s time, the doorbell rang. A woman in her 30’s stood there. Radhika was asleep in the bedroom. I invited her in. She stepped in and asked if she could meet the patient. She informed that she was a nurse. Since I had requested the doctor to help me, she had been sent.

Within a month’s time and till the time Radhika delivered a cute little girl child, Suhani continued staying with us, in the capacity of Radhika’s nurse. Over a period of time, Suhani graduated from being a nurse to our house help. Equations between the three of us had changed too. Somewhere within the heart of this 41 year old evolved husband, Suhani was fast making inroads. At least I thought so. Suhani never made it too apparent through her actions.

But let me tell you, Radhika amused me. What kind of a human being she was? I mean, didn’t she sense that I could be caught red-handed on grounds of infidelity. Trust me, I wasn’t as much in love with Radhika, as I was wanting to fall in love with Suhani. Or was I too much in love with Radhika and wanted to negate the feeling by forcibly falling in love with Suhani. But Suhani was beautifully, effortlessly winning my heart. You might ask, as to how I, the much married man was falling for Suhani. Don’t you know that I wanted to experience a less imagined love story? But this was growing way too unimaginable and out of control as well.

On regular occasions that I would take Radhika for her doctor visits, I would get to spend a lot of time talking to Suhani. Many a times, I had caught a glimpse of Radhika staring at me from a distance, while I was speaking to Suhani. And still she didn’t utter a word. I was left confused as to whether I should hate Radhika for this habit of hers or simply love her for being ignorant on purpose. Then my eyes would fall upon that little girl, we had fondly named Tara. Every time, I saw her, she melted my heart as well. I cuddled her. The feelings of fatherhood in me made its own twists and turns. But no matter how closely I wished to shower love on Tara; I couldn’t.

To Be Continued in Part 5…

At times, I would stare at Shunu Mashi’s garlanded photograph. Radhika revered her like a Goddess. Suhani would at times stare emotionally too. I would stare at Shunu Mashi with emptiness. No matter how seriously I wished to stay honest to Radhika, it was because of lust or maybe love, I couldn’t take Suhani out of my mind.

On one such weak evening, while Radhika was out for a stroll in the garden with Tara in her arms, I went looking for Suhani.

I saw her seated at the veranda watching Radhika strolling through. Quietly I whispered, ‘Suhani, don’t you wish to have a family of your own?’

‘Yes, I always wished for a family, Jatin. Did I tell you, I was married too?’ spoke Suhani.
I was dumbstruck. All I wanted to convey to Suhani was that I loved her. Or I was falling in love with her. But Suhani had changed the track. She was revealing a strange track record of hers and I was playing the role of a listener.

‘Yes Jatin. I was married. I know, when I arrived as nurse at this residence, Radhika and you were already married. I was being the much desired intruder who could have made you happy while Radhika was pregnant. Don’t tell me that this thought never crossed your mind, Jatin. Rightly imagined by you, I was very much available. My heart skipped a beat too when I saw you. But Jatin, I was here for a reason. I would want to tell you something, which Radhika shouldn’t know ever’, said Suhani.

‘But what is it all about?’ I asked.

‘Jatin. Would you believe if I tell you, Radhika and my life were ruined at the same time? I wish to tell you Jatin, please don’t ruin Radhika’s life any more. I feel indebted to her. You should feel indebted to her. Because of her, we are still having this conversation. Had it been some other woman, do you think, she could have accepted us being found together; speaking to each other?’ asked Suhani.

I replied with a dry throat, ‘Nope. I don’t think so.’

‘Look at her. Radhika is a Goddess. Do you remember the day when Radhika and your Shunu Mashi had arrived together?’ asked Suhani.

Yes, I did remember the day. The car had a dent. And I was worried. How can I forget the day? My life changed forever.

‘Jatin. Radhika and Shunu Mashi would have died in that accident. Do you know how the car got that dent?’ asked Suhani.

‘No. I don’t Suhani’, I replied.

‘It was my husband who wanted to kill them both. Radhika was betrayed by my much married husband. He had lured her into a relationship when Radhika was working with his company as an administrative assistant. I was already fed up of his womanising ways. But when I came to know about Radhika’s plight, I was left heartbroken. My husband had betrayed years of my devotion. I may not have been able to conceive. But that wasn’t the reason which led to his weird ways of exploiting women. My incapability of producing a child only gave him an opportunity to exploit women. Besides Radhika, he had exploited many others. I had sealed my lips. But one day, Radhika came knocking on the door. Before I could open it, he woke up; slammed the door on my face and headed for the main door. From the jarred space of the door, for the first time I saw Radhika fall on her feet and pleading to be accepted. He kicked her out of the home, walked straight into the bedroom and tried overpowering me. But I foiled his attempt. Thankfully he was drunk enough to doze off the moment I hit him hard down under. I immediately stepped out of home and tried looking for Radhika. Just then, I saw her waiving at passing vehicles on the main road and faint suddenly. It was your Shunu Mashi who had then stopped her car and took Radhika in. I was left feeling a bit at ease for some while. She had someone to care for’, explained Suhani.

I was left so stunned, it was difficult for me to even bat an eyelid. By that time, I couldn’t even react when I saw Radhika quietly walk towards the veranda and caressing Tara with love.

To Be Continued in Part 6…

Suhani continued, ‘Jatin. My husband was a monster. He was not done with Radhika. I realized, he was stalking her. After three weeks of stalking her, he had spotted Radhika at the care centre of ‘Hopefully Yours’. Then one day my husband came home; asked me if I would want to accompany him for a long drive. The proposition sounded too weird. He had never shown such keen interest in me, except in the first two years of our marriage. We drove at a relaxed pace till at a junction, my husband happened to spot Shunu Mashi’s car. Radhika was seated in too. On spotting them, my husband accelerated the speed of our car, and without bothering about me seated beside him, he straight away tried colliding with Shunu Mashi’s car. Thankfully he missed hitting them. Their speeding car just suffered a dent. While our car turned around vigorously. A truck followed and overthrew our car on the other side of the road. My husband died instantly. I was miraculously left unhurt. I wanted to escape unnoticed. Abandoning our destroyed car and a dead husband, I followed the same road that Radhika’s car had taken the turn for. I walked, I kept walking till I came across your home and saw the car being parked here.’

I asked Suhani, ‘but you are a nurse. Aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I am a nurse. I held a degree. When you were rushing Radhika to the hospital, I followed you in an auto rickshaw. On reaching, you had left Shunu Mashi waiting at the corridor. For the few hours that you were away tending to Radhika with the help of doctor, I got the opportunity to approach Shunu Mashi. But from a distance I could see she was panting for breath. By the time, I could have a word with her, you arrived and she had fallen asleep. The next morning, I came back in search of you both. But I was shocked to know that Shunu Mashi had succumbed to a cardiac arrest,’ clarified Suhani.

By this time Radhika had taken a seat beside me. Tara had fallen asleep. I looked at her with all the love, I had never felt for her and was still wanting to guess if Suhani was eligible to earn my love as well.

‘I waited for an opportunity. There was a debt I had to repay. My husband had impregnated Radhika. I waited for an opportunity. I took up a job in the same hospital, to which you and Radhika would visit regularly for check-ups. On that day when she fainted and the doctor advised that you hire a nurse; I knew my time had come. I had overheard your conversation. The same day, I decided to walk in as Radhika’s nurse. Spending time with her, with you and the baby on its way, I felt my life was now complete. I had initially decided to leave the day, Radhika delivered. But seeing Tara’s face, I couldn’t move an inch. Radhika had carried her in her womb. The same womb, which was left insulted by my monster husband. At the same time, I fell in love with this new family of yours, Jatin’, concluded Suhani.

Radhika’s eyes had welled up. I was left with unimaginable emotions about the moment. Somewhere in the deepest corner of my heart, I felt like hugging Suhani for once. But as destiny had it, I turned towards Radhika, stared deep in her eyes and hugged her tightly. I saw Suhani leave quietly. She did leave a void in our lives and the household.

After Suhani’s departure, Radhika and I never spoke about the past. Tara was growing fast. I had taken the reins of Shunu Mashi’s NGO in my control. Life had changed again. After a period of one month, when I was supervising the cleaning process of the room Suhani had occupied, I came across a note. This note carried Suhani’s handwriting, in which she had written – Only if Jatin could have been mine, today this could have been our story.

I crumpled the note between my palms and bounced it straight into the dustbin. I did think of Suhani again. Just then Radhika came in and asked, ‘What are you thinking of?’

I replied, ‘Nothing. Just a little less imagined love story’.

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