Thursday, February 23, 2012

Infidelity? You Bet!!

A very interesting conversation over a hurried morning tea between my husband and me went something like this:

Him : "Why would you want to read a book on infidelity?"
Me : "Why not?"
Him : "You think I am cheating you?"
Me (with a slight raised eye brow) : "Are You?"
Him : "Are you?"
Me : "Are you what?"
Him : "Oh OK! I get it! This is one of your freaky get-into-the-character thing, isn't it?" (but was that a sigh of relief?)

The cause of all this furor ? Well, it was this book that turned up as part of a book review program by Blogadda. The title of the book explains it all  :   "3'S A CROWD - Understanding and Surviving Infidelity" by Vijay Nagaswami

After having answered my curious better half 's perplexed questions, I sat myself down to read this book.

The title leaves no room for confusion - this is aimed at couples living through infidelity, or the ones trying to do so. Needless to say, it covers in detail, all aspects of an 'affair' - as the author likes to call this complex situation in many couples' lives today.

A few things that grabbed my attention:
  • Wonderfully edited book, with very accurately used words
  • Very skillful use if vocabulary - which means, ofcourse, that one may need to check out the dictionary a couple of times for e.g. "flagrante delicto" - for which I had to go all the way to good old Wiki dear to get a meaning.
  • Very clear definitions of what constitutes an affair
  • Non-judgemental descriptions of people in an affair - which includes repeated reminders to the wronged partner in an affair that they cannot assume the moral high-ground
  • Humour that can make you smile even in the most morbid of thoughts. For e.g. "I marvel at the amazing capacity ofhuman beings to mess up their lives"
The author is a renowned marital therapist, and has used much of his experience, in the form of little anecdotes, to explain all facets of affairs. Ofcourse, while he has been very careful to hide identities of his patients, most of us will relate, in demographic profiling as well the incidents. to atleast one of the many characters brought to life in the book.

The author assumes the role of the therapist, reaching out to the person reading the book, dealing with the reader as though the reader would be either in, or has recently been out of, an affair. Most of the book, ofcourse, deals with extra-marital affairs.

Firstly, the author clarifies what constitutes an affair. He also goes on to explain which kinds are more prevalent in men, and which in women. (Oh yes, the women are having them too - as the author says "It is a myth that only men have affairs - who do you think they are having their affairs with?")

The author goes on to shred to bits, a few myths that are prevalent about affairs - and I must admit, some of them actually made me sit up and think about all that I had heard about affairs.

A very unbiased, yet firm look at why people have affairs is the next journey that the author takes us on, followed by a detailed dissection of the various kinds of affairs.

The author, with very careful words, explains the discovery stage, the confrontation stage and the trauma faced by both the "Aggrieved" and the "Transgressor" - both words which are kinder than most others that would be used in the same situation.

While the author very clearly advocates a resolution - to either stay with the spouse or the "Paramour", he has taken the reader through the pain and despair involved in doing either of the same. In fact, the author has stated that he hopes some of the stories will be persuasive enough to deter atleast a few potential 'transgressors' from having an affair.

Final verdict : A definite read for:
  1.  anyone who has been in an extra marital affair and trying to put pieces of their life together.
  2. for people who are in doubt whether or not their relationship with "that special friend" is an affair or not.
  3. for anyone trying to decide whether the office affair just waiting to happen, is worth it.
A word of caution:  If buying from a bookstore, please flip through a few pages to see the print quality. In my particular copy, in some pages (7 pages out of a total of 308 pages) the words printed on one page smudged through to the next page, making for some frustrating read.

Yet another word of caution : Be prepared for either glares, or sympathetic head nods if you are reading this book in a public place (this bit is from experience!)

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sultan's Jewels (Final Part)

Photo credits

PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3

On the ride back home, Karthu was transported back into her childhood home.

Karthu did not know when she had started seeing Kumaran as an enemy. She had remembered snippets of her life when they would play together under the mango tree, study together when the tutor came home to teach her, and eat delicious sweetmeats prepared by Dechchu for them. There were times when Kumaran had stolen money from Dechchu to buy her ice candy. There had been times when she had hidden the tutor’s rod for fear of Kumaran being hit for not answering correctly.

But gradually, she felt envious of him. He seemed to get all the attention from her mother. Her mother was more interested in his progress from the tutor. She would give him more money every festival. “He is a growing boy,” she would say “he needs money. What will you do with the money? Your father gets you everything you ask for, even if you have just whispered it in your sleep!”

When she was old enough to understand the kitchen gossip, young Karthyayani learnt that Dechchu had accompanied her mother as part of the dowry, along with a son whose father no one knew about. There were stories of Dechchu being an unwed mother, and yet others of the father being killed by the British soldiers. Armed with this knowledge, young, rebellious Karthu had once called him a bastard. Kumaran had not responded, but Karthu’s mother had slapped her hard. She refused to speak with Karthu till she apologized.

A little later, Kumaran moved into the city with a government job; Karthu got married and that was the last she had seen him.

It was a few years later, Karthu, already widowed, was called home to meet her dying mother. Her mother had been saving up energy to tell her the truth. “Karthu, you need to know something…. I would have preferred to let this go to the grave with me, but I can’t bear to see you alone your entire life, dear.”

"I have always loved you more than anyone else, and you know that. I can understand why you got angry with Kumaran – you were jealous, weren’t you? You were also right in calling him what you did - his father died before he could get married to Kumaran’s mother ……. But Karthu, Dechchu is not his mother – I am! Dechchu was just the solution to keep my son close to me even after I was married – I had refused to get married otherwise…….. Now, you have to tell me if you can forgive me – so that I die in peace……”

Karthu had forgiven her, and had also vowed to keep the secret close to her heart, so she never sought out Kumaran to mend bridges. She had, however, cried into Dechchu’s bosom when her mother had died, the tears from both women washing away all the past misgivings……

And today, she thought of Shambhavi’s smile again. She now knew where she had seen the same smile before. It is said that genes skipped a generation – it couldn’t have held truer for Shambhavi, as she was a splitting image of Karthu’s gentle mother…….

Karthu had wanted to kiss Shambhavi one more time before leaving. She had also wanted to bless her with many more gifts than the one thing she had given her. But she couldn’t let tongues wag again, so she had let the moment pass. But Karthu had done enough to make her mother proud…..

Karthu did not have any dreams that night, not even of the little girl with the little arms.

She died peacefully in her sleep.

* * *

Shambhavi was overwhelmed when Karthyayani had parted with the bottle of coconut oil that she so possessively guarded all her life, and that too, after she had conspired with the family to meet Karthu…

She remembered Karthu’s instructions only when the telephone call from Nisha had come - Karthyayani had died the night before.

Shambhavi was shocked for a while. Later, she decided she would do what the old lady had wanted her to. She took out the bottle of lovingly prepared oil, now opaque and solid, out of the fridge. She melted it with care, so that the bottle did not crack.

When the oil had melted, she saw a little plastic pouch at the bottom. She poured out the oil and carefully extricated the plastic pouch. Opening it was a difficult task, as it had been carefully sealed. Her hands shaking with exhaustion and concentration, Shambhavi finally opened the little packet, and overturned it on to her palm.

Over a dozen little spots of brilliant colors touched her skin now shaking for different reasons. The stories about the Sultan’s heirlooms were true, apparently….


The Sultan's Jewels (PART 3)


Karthu knew something was amiss when Nisha insited that the young girls leave the room. But Karthu was never the curious kinds; she believed each family had their right to keep secrets - just as she knew had faithfully kept hers....

"Oh Nisha - I forgot to ask.... did you put my oil bottle in the fridge?"

"Ofcourse Amma! This is not the first time you are visiting us!" Nisha had herself taken the bottle from Amma's hands and placed it in the fridge, even though she could never fathom why coconut hair oil deserved such previleged settings.

"Amma..... Coconut oil does not get spoiled outside, no? And it is so much more difficult to take out solidified oil when you need it for your hair massage, then why do you keep the oil in the fridge?" Nisha helped Amma get up from the bed - Amma seemed to have aged faster since she last saw her.

"Well, this oil has many herbs which need to be kept cold... you will not understand the old folks' wisdom, so let it be.” It was already evening and it was time for the evening prayers.

After the prayers, Karthu asked Shambhavi "You are about twenty five, no? Around Karuna's age?"

Shambhavi laughed. "Oh no, Amma. I am much senior to her. Infact, I was already teaching in the college when she started studying there."

"Oh," Karthu's eyes narrowed, and she looked across the room at a nervous Nisha watching the entire conversation. "I thought you two were friends from college,"

"Yes, we are friends, but not from the same class.... I will come back in a little while, Amma - we have some things to pack into her bags," Shambhavi said as she was being pulled away by an impatient Karuna

Nisha came in with the tea, biscuits and some explanation. The other relatives, including Nisha's husband gathered around the dining table, and there was a strange, pregnant pause around the table.

"Amma, sorry I didn't tell you the whole truth about Shambhavi...." Nisha began, as Amma carefully sipped the hot tea. "You remember Dechchu? The lady who ......"

"Ofcourse Amma knows Dechchu!" Nisha's brother interrupted her, a little irritated that she would bring out unpleasant memories. "Dechchu was here when Amma was getting married, no?"

"That’s enough!" Karthu said, standing up. "The least you can do is to call her Dechchu-Amma .... Considering that most of you here have been bathed and fed by her when you were babies! Do college degrees take away your respect for elders?"

Karthu's outburst stunned everyone. It was a known fact that Karthyayani had hated Dechchu and her son.

"Sorry Amma," Nisha was holding her hand, pleading her to sit down. "Shambhavi is Dechchu ...Amma's granddaughter. Her son Kumaran's daughter. Kumaran died a couple of years ago, and there was some condition in your mothers' will about taking care of Shambhavi's education, so we have been in touch. I swear we wouldn't have if it was not for the condition in the will. Though why the will had a condition like that we never knew.........."

Karthu sat down, looking as though she would faint.
Dechchu Amma's grand-daughter.....
Kumaran's daughter.....

That explained the eyes, the smile. That explained all the beautiful dreams she had .....
“Amma! Are you alright? Amma, please don’t worry. She will be here only for Karuna’s wedding, and then she will be gone to her life again.” There was fear in Nisha’s eyes.

“Does the girl know me? I mean does she know I did not get along well with her father and her grandmother?”

Nisha nodded her head slowly. “I told her you wouldn’t like it. But she was insistent. She said she only wanted to see you once.”

“You don’t need to take my permission to call your guests – it’s your house, your daughter’s wedding and entirely your decision. But I would have liked it if you told me the truth. I think I want to lie down for a little while. All this journey is not dong my old bones any good…..” Karthu seemed to have recovered from the initial shock of seeing a sworn enemy’s daughter, and she did not seek any further explanations.
* * *
Karthu woke up from a dreamless sleep in the morning.

“Good Morning Amma. I hope you slept well…..” Nisha said while she served Amma her breakfast. “The kids are out looking for the right footwear for the trousseau. I agree with you Amma, these things should have been taken care of much before. I have no idea why they wait till the last day……”

“Nisha, you don’t need to shoo them out of the house on my account. I don’t really know how many more weddings I will see.... call them and tell them to come home. I would like to spend some time with Shambhavi too ….. Old Dechchu Amma would have liked that, no?”

A surprised but happy Nisha went to call her daughter back home, while Karthu went to the kitchen, and took out the bottle of coconut oil. When the girls returned, Karthu was applying oil on her hair. The girls gasped when they saw the lushness of the old lady’s hair.

Karthu smiled as she called them to her side. “You girls don’t oil your hair enough. Just watch, you will be putting those terrible chemical dyes to cover your white hair, before you can even be thirty!”

“But I have already crossed thirty, Amma!” Shambhavi said playfully.

“Then you should be married already…. Are you?” Karthu had to admit, Shambhavi was a beautiful woman.

“Oh, no Amma!” Shambhavi said in mock terror “Marriage is not meant for people like me. I have so much to do already – my husband would be a real unhappy soul if I married!”

When Nisha called out to Karuna to have her bath, Karthu was glad to be able to talk to Shambhavi alone. “Come here, dear. Do you want me to put oil in your hair?” Shambhavi was surprised at the softness of the tone, and slowly sat down on the floor with her head near Karthu’s knees.

* * *
“Don’t tell me the old woman is now spending time with that girl!” Nisha’s brother was skeptical about this from the very beginning – and now it was apparent that Amma preferred to spend most of her day with Shambhavi!

“Shut up, you silly man! Don’t you know the crazy history of that family? They tend to give away wealth to servants. So behave yourself, if you want your kids to get any of the property that she keeps close to her chest. For now, she has only shared the recipe for the hair oil – it could be other stuff too, if you and I are not nice to her…..”

Karthu was in the bathroom while they were talking. Noise does not carry through the thick wooden doors. But the bathroom also had skylights which opened to the corridor. Karthu somehow, felt relieved when she heard the siblings talk; like she was liberated from the false emotions that surrounded her all the time.

* * *
On the wedding day, Karuna looked beautiful in her wedding attire. Karthu took out the beautiful gold chain and matching earrings that she bought for her granddaughter. Nisha was overjoyed to see that Amma had also handed over a heavy envelope to Karuna, telling her that she could buy stuff for her new home.

Nisha’s brother wondered if he should get his son married off while Karthu was still able to attend weddings. Karthu was treated with utmost respect by the groom’s relatives too. She seemed to be handing out gifts and cash to everyone who was seeing her after a long time.

The aftermath of the festivities usually wears a hushed silence. And in this hushed silence, Karthu decided she had to now leave for her home. But before she left, she handed over the bottle of oil to Shambhavi.

“Melt the whole thing out and pour it into another bottle as soon as you reach home, and take good care of your hair.” Karthu had whispered into her ear. "And you have to get married soon. You should have people in your life who will love you even if you had nothing to give!"

As Karthu left the large gate and the sounds of her childhood behind, she was glad that one weight had been taken off her sholders…… 

(TO BE CONTD.) (Final Part

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Sultan's Jewels (PART 2)

Read Part 1 here

As Nisha and her husband brought Karthu up to date with all the happenings in the family, she kept looking out for familiar sights. “Amma how was your trip? I can’t believe that irresponsible fellow did not come with you! He has become just like these young city kids – no respect, no care …”

“Nisha!” Karthu interrupted her. “Everyone has their own lives these days. They have to, if they are to survive. If they fall short, it is people like you and me who will gossip about their failures, no?”

Karthyayani Nambiar was famous for her calm, unruffled one-liners, which quieted the loudest of battles – and this, evidently was one battle that she would not lose out. In all the years that she partook in their happiness and sadness, no one could ever point out that she was unfair to, or biased towards any special niece or nephew. She loved one and all, showered blessings (and gifts) to one and all. So Nisha was not surprised when Karthu defended Aravind – she knew if it ever came to that, Karthu would defend Nisha too.

The other thing that people knew about Karthu was that she had a gorgeous mane of waist-length hair. Even now, she had better hair than most women half her age – lustrous dark black, with only an enviable sprinkling of silver; which somehow, made her look more dignified. It was no surprise to anyone that Karthu took special care of her hair, applying specially concocted oil every day. She made the oil herself, by soaking herbs in coconut oil. She hadn’t shared the ingredients with anyone – her hair was the only thing she was known to be vain about.

Karthu did not want to delve further into details of Aravind’s lifestyle, so she thought it best to change the topic to something more pleasant. “So tell me, who all have already arrived at the Tharavdu (ancestral home) for the wedding? And this boy you have found for Karuna – does he have a government job?”

And while Nisha excitedly listed out the names of the relatives who were still arriving, or had arrived, Karthu smiled fondly at her quiet, but observant husband. She liked Nisha’s husband – he was the kind of man any woman could give their daughter away to, without worrying about their future. He now explained to her, in a very neutral tone, that the ‘boy’ was identified by Karuna herself. But, he quickly added, the boy had a good job in Mumbai, and that their daughter Karuna would move there soon.

* * *
As soon as they arrived at the imposing gate of the large house, Karthu could feel her heart thumping with the same exhilaration she felt, every time she came back ‘home’. Technically, she lived a few kilometers away in a smaller, more practical house, with much more facilities. She had a servant lady who stayed with her when she stayed in that house. But the Tharavadu, which formed part of her growing up years, was what she still saw in her dreams as her home.

As soon as the car turned on the gravel around the majestic banyan tree towards the front door of the Tharavadu, Karthu could hear whispers of the wind against the leaves of the trees, the welcome songs of the birds that only came during the mango season, and the unforgettable smells of the ripening jackfruit. She could also hear the whoops of joy from the children playing inside.

“Where’s my pretty angel?” Karthu asked Nisha, as soon as she had met up with all the nieces and nephews and grandchildren crowding her. “Oh… Karuna has gone to the beauty parlor, Amma. They have some kind of a treatment for brides these days. Haven’t you seen the movie stars; how their skin looks perfect? She will have the same kind of make up for her wedding too…..” Nisha stopped when she saw Amma smiling, not entirely without sarcasm.

"And she goes around town all alone five days before her wedding? I would have thought you of all people to follow some of the traditions, Nisha.” Amma’s voice was quiet, but it carried all the strength of the message she wanted to give across.

“No, Amma….. Her friend has also gone with her.” Nisha clarified.

"And do you know who I am, little one?” Karthu asked with a twinkle in her eyes to the youngest grandchild peering at her from behind a pillar. The child, a girl of about four, shook her head. “Priya, we told you… that’s your Grandmother!” The child’s flustered mother came forward with the intention of proving the statement.

“No, you didn’t.” The child stood her ground, much to the chagrin of the mother. “You said that was my Grandmother…” she said, pointing to a garlanded picture hanging on the wall. The picture was of Karthu’s first cousin – her maternal uncle’s daughter. “Then how can this be my Grandmother?"

Karthu burst out laughing, easing much of the tension for the mother of the erring child. “Well, let me explain. Your grandmother and I are cousins – like you and Karuna-chehi. So, I am your grandmother as well, right? Come here – I have something for you!”

All her relatives knew Karthu had no siblings of her own – so they were cautious to make their beloved Karthu Amma always feel at home – and even disastrous disclosures as the one that just happened did not refute the fact that they cared for her feelings.

“So who is this friend that Karuna has gone out with?”

Karthu’s eagle eyes thought she spotted some hesitation on Nisha’s part before she answered. “Oh, you have not met her before – she was a college friend and stays far away these days.” And while she answered, there was uneasiness in the eyes of more than a few people in the room. Well, maybe it was the journey, she thought.

* * *

Amma……. Find me if you can......” Karthu knew she was dreaming – the little face and the little arms she knew so well by now..... this was a dream she had seen many times before, and each time she smiled in her sleep.This time, though, she woke up before the dream ended.

Karuna was smiling at her, and she hugged Karthu as soon as she opened her eyes. “Sorry Ammamma, I know you had a terrible journey – all because I decided to get married all of a sudden. You know I love you, right?”

Karthu was basking in the warmth of the adulation from her young granddaughter, when she spotted a beaming young lady next to Karuna. “And this is your friend?”

“Oh Yes, I forgot – Ammamma, meet Shambhavi……. Shambhavi, I present to you the famous Neelaparambil Karthyayani Nambiar – ta-da!!!” Karuna dragged the girl closer to Karthu.

“Hmmmm….. You are a pretty young thing. Have we met before? I have seen you somewhere, haven’t I?”

Karthu strained her eyes while pulling Shambhavi closer to her. Shambhavi folded her palms in respect, and shook her head. She had big almond-shaped eyes and an aristocratic nose. She was wearing jeans - not something Karthu would have liked young girls that age to wear. But she understood that the youth of today liked to dress similar to each other – the boys liked long hair and ear piercings, and the girls liked short hair, jeans and T shirts. But Shambhavi’s smile was what looked most familiar to Karthu….

Nisha had come running up the stairs, gasping for breath. She looked sternly at a cringing Karuna and asked “What are you two doing here? Didn’t I tell you Amma was sleeping?” She looked at all three of them, and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, she calmed visibly.

“So what, Nisha? Is this the first time my kids have come to me and woken me up from sleep? You know I don’t mind, then why are you creating such a noise?” Amma pulled Karuna and Shambhavi on to her bed, as she quietly rebuked her niece. “And by the way, you told me I don’t know Karuna’s friend, but I am sure I’ve seen her before… I just don’t remember where....”

Again, Karthu thought she saw discomfort in Nisha’s eyes.

(TO BE CONTD.)  (Part 3 / Final Part)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Sultan's Jewels (PART 1)

This was Karthyayani’s first time in an airport. She was wearing a pristine white sari as she always did, since the day she was widowed. She pulled her brown shawl tighter around her head and throat. Aravind, her young nephew, had hurriedly wrapped the shawl around her, before she walked away from him at the departure terminal.

She had not turned around to say good bye, as she knew he would have already run towards his wrongly parked car. He had thoughtfully put her ticket, her ID card and a few fifty Rupee notes in a little black folder so that she wouldn’t have to rummage through her purse to locate them. He had also given her a bottle of water and a packet of cream biscuits – in case she needed to eat something before she got on to the flight. He knew she had diabetes, and had frequent bouts of hypoglycemia.

Karthu Amma, as she was called by all her nieces and nephews, thought back at the instructions that Aravind had coached her multiple times. “Amma, you have to go to the lady in that blue uniform, and ask her for the Jet Airways flight to Mangalore. You have to tell her that it is the 3 o’clock flight OK?” She had nodded, more to release Aravind of his rapidly increasing guilt for letting her travel alone, than because she understood those instructions.

The lady in blue uniform had been really nice, Karthu had to admit; unlike most of the other young, painted faces she had encountered in the city of artificial lights and equally artificial smiles. The lady took her through the crowded counters and the security check, and she finally boarded the aircraft.

Neelaparambil Karthyayani Nambiar was a proud woman, who had seen the rise and fall of aristocratic reign of her family in the village she came from. She had grown up listening to legendary stories of valor and honor, of family heirlooms captured back from Tipu Sultan’s army by her ancestors; those who never ran out of gold to reward judiciously, and the intelligence to punish justly. She herself had been witness to grand weddings and grander temple festivals in the family. But things changed – some were gradual and some of them, overnight.

She had no complaints – she’d had a healthy life, a comfortable life for over seventy years now – even though fate had decided for her to stay lonely during most of these years. After having lost her young husband from an early marriage, she had decided to remain a widow; though her family had been modern enough to contemplate a second marriage.

Karthu had always been wealthy – both by birth and by marriage. She had also been lucky in terms of being surrounded by children of all ages around her all the time, thanks to the large, extended families from both sides. It was one such child that she was heading to visit. Her grand-niece was soon getting married, and the family had begged her to come to the wedding.

She was also worldly wise, thanks to all the gossip she was privy to. She knew her wealth had helped to keep the near of kin nearer. She also knew that she had been generous to every young child in the family – but it kept her happy, and well cared for. The old household help had once told her about the rumor doing the rounds in the family circles – about the heirloom jewels from Tipu Sultan that came as part of her ample dowry.

There were many stories about the lavish dowry that young Karthyayani had brought from her loving family, and the wedding that had seen guests from even the Chirakkal Raja’s family. No one knew details of where the royal gifts were, or how much of it was still with Karthu. And she had never cared to go into the details of the same.

Aravind, who preferred the city heat to genlte breeze in the village, was one of Karthu’s youngest nephews, and he was still struggling to find the right things in life – the right job, the right girl, and the right things to say in a family gathering, when you have neither of the other two. So he had decided to stay away from it all. But he had arranged for her to visit the grand-niece, helped her pack in all the gifts, and also apologized many times. Poor boy! Karthu had visited him while on her way back from a naming ceremony of a grandchild.

She was now sitting in the aircraft, holding the buckle of her seat belt, trying to fit the two pieces in - too proud to ask the young man sitting next to her to help her. The air hostess smiled as she came closer to Karthu, and helped her snap the buckle in place. Even this one seemed nice. ‘How is it that Aravind cannot find a nice one, with so many of these pretty things in the city?’ She wondered to herself.

As soon as Karthu stepped out of the Mangalore airport (not as intimidating as the earlier one, she decided) she saw Nisha and her husband waving frantically at her. Nisha was her niece, and the mother of the bride-to-be. They had come all the way from their little town almost 3 hours away to pick her up from the airport. Karthu smiled as she realized she would soon be able to see her lovely grand niece again.

TO BE CONTD.    ( Part 2 / Part 3 / Final Part  )

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Earrings (Concluding part)

This is the final part of a three part story. Read the other two parts :

Part 1 / Part 2

‘Like a date, Dad?’, his daughters had teased, when they called him up earlier today….

Ria had her hair done up in a different style today. She seemed to have aged so beautifully! How had he forgotten how pretty she was? And those earrings!! They framed her little face with light when she moved. Not to mention her peach dress that promised a second look...

Roshan struggled with the thought of  asking her about the affair during the drive to the suburban resort where the reunion was planned; when she put her hand over his, that he decided he would wait until later....
* * *

The reunion was a melange of hilariously endearing introductions, and surprised recognitions. Later, friends huddled into smaller groups to catch a few quiet drinks in various corners of the resort. Ria stood aside while the friends were gathering together “Are you sure you will be ok alone?” Roshan asked. “Why don’t you join us by the poolside too?”

“No… you go ahead. I am sure I can find other alumni wives and we can all sit and bitch about you guys…” she laughed, arm lightly in the crook of his elbow. She then flicked a few errant crumbs off his jacket front lightly. “Is that a new pocket square? You have been shopping without me, I see.” Was that hurt in her eyes, or suspicion?

After a moment of contemplation, she stood on her toes, and kissed him lightly on his cheek, her earrings dangling against his neck. “See you for dinner, Roshan,” and she walked towards the bar. Roshan’s hand went to his cheek involuntarily. It was not normal for her to make bold statements – in dressing or in display of affection; and yet today, she had done both.

“Something’s definitely different,” he thought uneasily.

* * *

The party continued late into the night, with old friends renewing their relationships. All through the night, he kept searching Ria out. While laughing at the jokes, he would watch her toying with her earrings. Damn! He loved those earrings…. He smiled in sudden relief as he realized what she had bought at the jeweler’s a week ago.

The drive back was unlike any that Roshan had experienced for a long time. Ria had removed her high heels, and had pulled her legs up to her chest. This caused the hem of her dress to ride back, revealing quite a bit of her thigh. He remembered a mole on her right thigh, and checked to see if his memory served him accurately. It was still there, as inviting as ever……

Back home, he opened the front door, and held it open for her, not missing the surprised look on Ria’s face. She went in for her shower, while Roshan caught up on his mail.

She came out of the shower in her towel, but she still had the earrings on. She walked up in front of him, and he moved to the side of the couch to make space for her. He was surprised to see disappointment in her eyes.

He hadn’t noticed how much her eyes had changed in the last few years. He hadn’t seen the little wrinkles around her eyes and her lips earlier. But she was still a stunning woman.

“Did you see my new earrings, Roshan?” There was something in that question that made him want to take her into his lap, and love her like he did when she walked into his life as his bride. Then he remembered the changes, the shopping, the other man.....

“Yes, I did.” Ria was surprised to note that there was a sadness in his voice. “Also your new hairstyle and the makeup… I loved your sexy dress too…” He laughed nervously.… “Are you having an affair?” Somehow, the question came out less flippantly than he would have liked. Ria was still standing, and she smiled naughtily. “Why? Do I look that good?”

“You bought yourself diamond earrings without calling up to tell me like you usually do and when I saw the amount I thought it was because you wanted to give ME a surprise gift… you wear makeup even at home…… your hair looks different, you have been shopping a lot.. I...I... Didn’t know what to make of it”

Ria looked shocked as realization struck her. She sat on the couch, looking rueful. “I’ve been missing the girls so much. I didn’t realize I was so dependent on them to make me happy… ” She sighed. “I just had so much time, and no one to look after. I didn’t realize you would feel this way.” Her eyes, with the fine wrinkles around them, threatened to well up……

“I am sorry I didn’t get you a gift,” she whispered sadly.

“Oh but you did, Ria,” Roshan said softly to his wife, his voice shaking with emotion, as he took her in his arms. “You most certainly did!”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Earrings (Part 2)

photo credits

This is the second part of a three-part story. For the first part, see here .

*      *       *

The next few days, Ria's life had an unsettled feel – like the waves formed in a still lake when a pebble is thrown in. Waves that began with the earrings, and ebbed higher with the phone call from the girls …... ‘Mom, so how are you planning the date?’ they giggled into the phone, causing Ria to laugh nervously.

‘Will you wear the peach dress I gave you?’

She could still make out which of the twins was talking to her, even though they had tried to trick her many times. Shruti had gifted the peach satin dress for her birthday a few years ago. Ria had never worn the peach dress before –  ‘Was it three years ago, or four?’ Ria thought, surprised at the length of time she had waited for an occasion to wear something she loved.

After the phone call, she took out her earrings, pausing to admire them again. Funny how she didn’t tell the girls about her shopping binge, even though she remembered……. She remembered that she hadn’t told Roshan either.

Earrings were the only jewelry she wore, because they were the only things Roshan noticed. Or was it the other way round? It was so long ago, she did not remember which came first – her love of earrings, or Roshan’s appreciation for them. ‘I have to ask him that…’

* * *

Roshan thought Ria looked different these days… She had started to wear kohl and lip gloss at home. He knew make-up was something she grudgingly applied when they had to go out, or if they had guests at home. She had always been pretty; in an unpretentious sort of way, but something had changed……

She hadn’t gifted him the expensive watch yet. For an uneasy moment, he was unsure if it was a watch, and if it was for him. Something was happening in her life that he wasn’t part of, and Roshan was not comfortable with that.

He had almost told Anita about his fears too; when she had taken him out on a frantic hunt for a pocket-square to match his tie. Anita had, in her usual child-like stubbornness, insisted that they complete his attire for the much awaited reunion. And after a successful bout of shopping, they were in a sandwich and coffee place, when she came clean about her feelings.

Anita put her hand on Roshan’s arm, and said, “Chief, I think you already know that I like you – I think I may have a crush on you, ok? And I know you have a family and all that. And I have no business saying this, but you can always talk to me….” She lowered her voice as she leaned closer “As a friend, you know – I have no intention to start an affair with my boss!” Her smile making the conversation light, but her eyes letting him know her intentions.

Roshan, for the first time in his life, resented being married, being fifty soon and being kept out of a secret by his wife. His resentment soon gave way to guilt, and he patted Anita’s hand, smiling tiredly as he stood up from his chair. “Thanks Anita. What would I have done without you … Or have I already asked that?” And they both laughed as the tension of the moment eased out. But he had decided that he had to talk to SOMEONE about this…..

* * *

“Maybe you should just ASK her, Roshan,” It was not what Andy said that irritated Roshan; it was the slurping of his drink that did. Andy was his school time buddy – and Roshan had just told him about the strange way that Ria had been acting these days.

“Will you stop that sound? No, I don’t want to ask her. I don’t want her to think I am a snoopy, jealous husband….” Roshan was interrupted by the slurping again.

“But you are one, aren’t you?” Andy was amused.

“I just want to know what’s going on…” Roshan trailed off, lost in thoughts of the credit card bill, the new attention Ria paid to the way she looked, at her sudden interest in going out shopping more often…..

“Don’t tell me you think she’s having an affair!” Andy was now looking intently at Roshan’s face, causing him to look away; but atleast the slurping had stopped…. And then, abruptly, Andy just started laughing cruelly.

“Not funny, Andy,” Roshan was almost sulking now. “She was so upset when the kids left for college, and all of a sudden she seems to look so happy! I can’t think of anything exceptionally nice I have said or done to make her feel good; so obviously, it’s not me!!”

“And you’re feeling bad that she’s feeling good?” the amazement in Andy’s voice bordering on sarcasm. The slurping was back with a vengeance, this time because Andy was thinking.

“Well… the affair thing is a possibility. If I were you, I’d start getting a little more romantic. You guys have been so busy being parents; you’ve forgotten how to be a couple. Now with the kids away and all, one really never knows with women, you know….. Especially someone who looks as good as she does!”

*     *     *
On the day of the reunion, she was ready much before the time Roshan said he would pick her up. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her face paled in front of the shining diamond earrings… she knew what was missing. She used a bronze shade of eye shadow, which instantly brightened up her face. She looked better than she had imagined, and decided to do her hair again, a little more dramatic; the effect looked good….

Roshan blared the horn a few times; till Ria appeared at the front door. She was wearing a new dress which showed off her petit figure and high heels… he smiled when he saw the little clutch she was holding - she had always carried large oversized purses filled with quick fixes for every emergency the family might have. The clutch somehow made her look much younger, prettier. “Could it really be another man?” he thought, his conversation with Andy coming back to him.

He suddenly remembered what Andy had told him about being romantic. In comic frenzy, he opened the car door, and ran out to take the huge key from Ria. He noticed for the first time, how the large key looked inept and garish in her delicate hands, even though she had always been the one to lock the doors when they went out. Funny how he never looked at her hands any more……“You look nice. Is that a new dress? Wow.”

He was surprised at how easily she blushed. “No… it’s not new. Don’t you remember? Shruti gave it to me almost four years ago…. For my birthday…” With each pause in her statement, she seemed to be justifying her altered appearance. Did she sense his suspicions?


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Earrings (Part 1)

photo credits
Ria sighed as she pulled out her credit card to pay. She winced when she saw the bill, but she felt a strange happiness too. It felt like the bittersweet guilt of having stolen a kiss, surreptitiously, for the first time. She signed the credit card slip, and took the little purple pouch from the smiling salesgirl at the jewelry store.

Back home, she grinned as she opened the purple drawstring pouch to reveal a pair of the most exquisite, delicate earrings she had ever seen - little iridescent diamond drops encased in platinum that threw beads of light against her cheeks when she held it to her ears. Ria’s smile now spread to her eyes, and she could feel warmth diffusing to her toes.

‘Maybe this is what they mean by retail therapy’ she thought, wondering what her twin daughters would say if they found out her latest hypothesis for happiness…….. ‘Hmmmph!’ she grunted. ‘They would call up Roshan to tell him the big news!’ She spoke to herself, suddenly realizing that she had started having conversations with herself since the twins moved out of the three bedroom apartment a few months ago. She smiled affectionately at the framed photos lining the corridor - the twins had struck perfect poses for perfect pictures, at various stages in their lives…..

Her daughters Shreya and Shruti had seized her attention since their first kick in her womb during pregnancy. They went on to become the focal point of her life – and her husband Roshan’s life too. Every motivation, every decision and every discussion revolved around their lives, their birthday parties, their studies, and their careers.

And then, suddenly, as though life had been fast forwarded in a movie, they had been ready to fly, ready to live on their own. Through the process of identifying colleges, cities, and local guardians in all probable cities, she’d had a little ache in her heart reminding her that the girls had ceased to be her little girls. And without any forewarning, she had been overwhelmed with loneliness.

It was not as though Roshan did not understand; he had asked her on many accounts, to start pursuing her career again, which she suspected was more out of guilt than anything else. Gradually, she had discovered that Roshan and she had moved on to being good friends than being in love. She would sometimes conjure up images of what she would do if he had feelings of love for someone else – he was quite handsome even with the little thickness around his waist.

Ria now shook herself out of her sanctuary of memories, looked at the mirror, and smiled at her reflection. Her hair was still a dark, lustrous brown. Her genes had intervened to soften the passage of time, for which she was thankful; she knew she could never bring herself to color her hair. Her skin had some of the glow it had in its youth, but her eyes seemed to give away her age.….

She would wear the earrings to the ‘Silver’ reunion of Roshan’s Alma mater next week. Roshan had been excited for a month now, at the prospect of meeting his old friends from college, after nearly 25 years. The twins had made a big deal of it too. ‘Like a date’ they had squealed, their eyes twinkling.

* * *

Roshan was fidgeting with his cuff links again. His secretary Anita knew this to be an indication that he was deliberating over an issue, and did not want interruptions. Anita did not mind; she just wanted to make sure everything was fine – Roshan had looked lost all through the meeting a few minutes ago. Anita was just wondering whether to call the pantry and order a cup of his favorite masala chai, when the phone rang.

Roshan’s office was tasteful but minimalistic, and the only personal effect in the room was a collage made by the twins….candid photographs with captions elucidating what a wonderful dad he was. Today, that card reminded him how much he had been missing them. He was interrupted in his reveries by the movement in front of his glass door. He caught Anita’s quizzical look, but he did not want to talk to her now.

Roshan looked at his watch, and realized it was well past office working hours. His secretary was still at her desk, as he had not given any instructions yet. That was what he liked about Anita. She was young, but mature; intuitive, but followed orders. He had often wondered (aloud for her benefit, and in private to himself) what he would do without her. And the fact that she was quite a dazzling young woman made it even easier to have her around. He also knew she was only a few words shy of expressing her infatuation with him. This had made him smile when alone; glad he could still have that effect on women. He was, after all, closer to fifty than he could care to be.

He dialed her extension, and she picked up the phone before the second ring. “Sorry Anita, please leave for the day. I should have told you earlier. Good night.”

An hour before, he had called the credit card company to verify the sms – Ria had spent an unusually high amount without calling him up first! That was so unlike her, he thought. It was a jewelry store….. So maybe she finally bought something for herself!

He smiled at his wife’s habit of skimming through price tags before looking at any other attribute of a prospective purchase, while gasping for effect when she felt the price was moderately higher than her budget buys. But why didn’t she tell him this time? She always called when she needed convincing to buy anything of value, whether it was for her, or the home, or the twins.

‘Unless……’ he thought with a smile, ‘it’s a gift for me!’ He got up from his chair, happy that the mystery was solved. ‘But what could she buy for me from a jeweler? Cuff links couldn’t possibly cost so much, and I don’t wear any jewelry…. maybe a watch?’

His stomach grumbled in protest, reminding him dinner was long due….Dinners used to be fun with the girls rattling out the days’ events. But there had been very little engaging conversation at the dinner table for a couple of months now – since the girls moved away. There were niceties, of course, and there were the mandatory discussions - “The electricity bill was very high last month”, or “the girls need to deposit their college fees this week” ….. “The neighbors are having their anniversary party… what will you wear?” …… “The car’s been making some weird noises…”

Its not like there never was romance in their lives - there had been romantic interludes before mundane urgency made their way in …… she liked long drives and dinners, movies and ice cream. She also had a mean bargaining streak down her back; atleast she still had THAT trait intact, and had trained the girls too. He laughed at the image of the three women in his life tackling a terrified salesman together.

Driving back, Roshan was listening to their favorite romantic number, from the first movie they saw together…. HIS favorite number - he realized he didn’t actually remember if it was Ria’s favorite too. ‘I must ask her one of these days….’

Read Part 2 and Part 3

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The weekend sojourn...

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Usually, weekends for my family means a lazy morning, a heavy brunch and a melange of random, spur-of-the-moment plans. This weekend, otherwise no different that usual, saw me developing a list of rules for all such random madness we call weekends

Rule 1 : Never assume children have fixed ambitions. They are driven by determined little brains that leave no stone unturned to get what they set their heart to achieve - till they notice that the other kid down the road has something better worth achieving. Case in point - shiny new helium balloon (bought after much whining) was thrown aside when skates were discovered!

Rule 2 : If you thought a good workday ended in 8 hours, please note: NOT TRUE for toddlers. After about four hours, they start mutating into these terrible monsters who will do the exact opposite of what you tell them to! So the remainder of your day is spent either yelling or running after them (both of which, I discovered, can cause headaches!)

Rule 3 : Do not expect sympathies from people - even if they are scrambling mothers themselves. In other words - Your kids, YOUR problem! If your kids scream, you get dirty looks. No amount of sheepish grinning or hassled-looking apologies will clear the air.

Rule 4 : Do not, I repeat DO NOT, use puppies as a temporary means to pacify sulky toddlers. Sigh!! A petting corner, some ADORABLE puppies with satin ribbons, tired toddler with a love for canines - NOT a good combination. Of course, he jumped in glee when he was handed a pup with a purple ribbon. But his translation of that act was, "Ok... now lets go home... WITH the puppy!" Result? An absolutely berserk parent trying to pry the pup out of little hands, uncontrollable tears from the said toddler.... Sheer heartbreak! (While kiddo tries to enact Romeo's death scene here ....  )

Rule 5 : Sometimes, middle aged women security guards (we encountered ours in the elevator) tell you sensible stuff. "Maydam.... baba thak gaya hai... godi utha lo." (The kid is tired, why don't you pick him up...). And after kicking myself for not thinking of something so basic, I pick up the bawling one. And like magic, the sobbing stops, he puts his head on my neck and goes off to sleep..... Magic moments!

Rule 6 : Never, NEVER ignore the older child..... Oh yes! Same story - elder one gets pushed around, because the younger one is driving everyone NUTS. It is much more difficult to un-sulk an eight year old, as compared to a puppy-crazed toddler. But a special woman-to-woman talk and a barbie hair-band does the trick!

Rule 7 : Never end a tiring day with dinner at an atrociously overpriced restaurant. The kids are ready to crash, husband is not too sure his credit card will hold out any longer, and you are all but ready to throw those darned footwear out of your life! A snooty restaurant is NOT the place you want to unwind in. We were clever .... we headed home, one kiddo started snoring in the car, and the other one barely made it into her night clothes. We ordered momos from the local Chinese 'Snakes' fellow, snuggled into the blanket, and watched old Hindi songs .... Bliss! I Love my family!