This is a work of fiction. It comes from the mind of Sarbari Sen, a world famous chef in her family. She feeds one husband, one daughter, one son and their many friends as often as she can. When not making rosgullas she dabbles in homeopathy, tolerates her kids and concocts tales of murder and mayhem. She has zero tolerance towards anyone who chops a tree, which is strange since she apparently has no issues knocking off people in her stories. So, folks, you have been warned, trees are more important than people.
“Vidu, you’re marrying this guy on the rebound!”
“I don’t care, Hari Bhaiya”, she said, “If they won’t let me marry Ravi, then it doesn’t matter what I marry, does it? Man, donkey, whatever. Let them be happy. Let it not be said that I failed to save the family’s honour.”
“Well, if that’s your decision, then there’s not a whole lot I can say. I still think you should at least wait a bit and do some research. You can’t jump at the first guy they bring out! Besides, you know and I know that Badi Mami has no idea about.. about… about anything!”
“Doesn’t matter. Leave it be.”
And so Vidya, darling of the family, trekker, movie addict and foodie married Kishore, who did none of the above. Kishore was quiet, focused on his career and quite lost in his relationship with Vidya. She had capped a great academic period by snaring a post at an international manufacturer of consumer goods. Marketing and Sales suited her outgoing personality. Kishore was in finance, the large bank allowed him anonymity and the security he craved. Five years on, their life had settled into a steady pattern of Vidya pushing and Kishore quietly giving in. There was never any talk of kids.
“Umm? Yeah?”, Kishore looked up from the carefully stapled set of sheets he was reading.
“We have to buy the chandelier today, it’s been months.”
“The chandelier. We talked about it, remember?”
“I’m still not sure why we need a chandelier.”
“We have to light up the stair well. I feel unsafe there when we come home in the evening. It’s always so badly lit.”
“Count the number of steps, like I do.”
“You finance guys are always counting things. Normal people..”
“Scientists and engineers do, too.”
“Oof! Don’t you care to make your house look good?”
Kishore didn’t. He wasn’t given to opulence of any kind and according to him chandeliers were definitely not necessary. Vidya, in the past few weeks, had spoken of almost nothing else, though.
“Ok, ok. I don’t know why you are obsessed with this chandelier shopping. It’s not the end of the world if we don’t have one.”
Kishore hated to go out on the weekends. He hated crowds. His days were organized and bound by routine. Weekday mornings were driven by the need to get to the office. Once he was in the car, he would whip out his laptop and pore over it, while the Zafar threaded his way through the crush of the morning rush. Vidya would focus on her phone. Between whatsapp and office emails she paid no attention to Kishore.
Their five years together were pretty much summed up by their morning commute. A perfunctory honeymoon had been followed by a few weeks of dinners hosted by assorted uncles and aunts. They had both eased into a state of polite independence. It helped that each had a career. Kishore was dutiful, conscientious and destined for a few promotions, due more to his steady work than any pure leadership qualities. He would be content with that.
Vidya was already making a bit of a nuisance of herself, questioning and challenging and driving change in the way the company marketed it’s line of soaps and shampoos and other “personal care” products. Her pushy nature and drive was being noticed and she had already received two awards for innovation. Her natural instinct for people, her easygoing approach to work coupled with her native intellect allowed her to take charge and get things done. She enjoyed the chaos, she enjoyed every bit of what the world had to offer.
Evenings were staid affairs. Kishore would watch the news. She would get to watch a serial or so. This would be followed by dinner and bed. She would read a book. He would read the financial papers on his ipad.
He didn’t read fiction. He didn’t see the need to. He neither understood the concept of a made up story nor did he believe that there were any lessons to be gained from fictional stories. He read non-fiction,mostly self help and management books. He read all the lists he could lay his hands on. “Ten Things to go from Good to Great”, “Seven Secrets of Leaders” and more of the ilk were his food.
Any conversation on books was a non-starter. Vidya found that out early. It was the same with movies. She missed her movies. Kishore had no interest in movies. He tried to sit through a few with Vidya, but he would lose the plot, ask her questions and slow the plot down to the point where she had to either shush him ( in the theater ) or rewind ( at home ). Eventually, she watched by herself. He read his papers.
All of this would have been tolerable if she had been able to go trekking again. Trekking had made her feel alive. As the darling of her family, the youngest of four siblings, she was indulged not only by her parents, but by her older siblings. Hari Bhaiya, in particular, the oldest, was also the most supportive. It was he who had first taken her along on a trek. He’d been on quite a few while in university and his experience was what finally convinced the parents to let her go.
Vidya had fallen in love with the concept almost from the start. The open air, the physical challenge and the comradeship necessary to survive the rigors of the rugged terrain were a combination that went straight to the head. More than that was the ability to tune out the noise of daily life, escape the honking cars, the dust, the heat of the city. The pristine lakes, the soaring vistas, lovely valleys allowed Vidya to be free. She loved the fact that you could be alone amongst natural surroundings, yet you had support in the form of the rest of the team. The evenings were magical, as the team sat together for the evening meal, often under the clear sky, as the stars twinkled into life above them.
It was on one of these treks that she met Ravi. Ravi was almost her age, shared her passion of trekking, movies and good food. They met often after the trek and nine months later she broke it to the family.
Her dad was aghast.
“We come from a family of great Brahmins and you want to marry outside your community? If you do, you do it at your peril.”
“Think of what Samir Bhai will say”, said Sushila, Vidya’s mom. Samir Bhai was tauji to Vidya, her dad’s older brother. He was actually a first cousin, but it didn’t matter. He would be shocked to the core.
The debates went on for months. Even the siblings got involved. Various schemes, plans and options were presented and ultimately rejected. It became apparent to Vidya that she had to choose between family and Ravi. She couldn’t imagine her life without a family that had give her an education and encouragement in everything she had done so far. This, however, was crossing the line. The family had given all they could and could give no more. Vidya knew she had to part ways with Ravi. It had hurt. She had ached a lot and cried for days.
“No, not this one. It only has two lamps.”
“How many lamps do you need? I thought the idea was to light up the stairwell, not blind the neighbourhood.”
Vidya ignored him and pointed at a large, heavy looking creation with swooping and swirling arms some of which ended in lamps.
“That one. How much is that?”
“Vidya, that one uses 8 bulbs! The electricity bill will be enormous!”
“Oh shush! I’ve had it with penny pinching all the time. Besides, it’s only lit a few hours a day. And it looks really nice.”
“Madamji, it is wrought iron. Very heavy and, look, classic beauty.”
He shot a glance at Kishore.
“It will last a long time. This is a once in a lifetime buy, almost.”
“Are you going to send someone to install it?”, asked Kishore.
“Ji, we don’t have installation service, ji. Very sorry. But it is very easy. You see there is a hook, and you connect the wires here. Best to use a ladder so you are not lifting over your head.”
They took it home and it lay in its box in the second bedroom. Kishore had year end coming up and he was busy. And there was the year end gala to organize as well; he’d been given charge of all the arrangements this year.
It was at the gala that she spotted Ravi. She watched him from the corners of her eyes, talking to a group of managers from Kishore’s department. There was a tightness in her chest, she couldn’t breathe. She took a couple of deep breaths and headed off to the bar. Armed with a rum and coke, she at least felt she could turn around and face the room. When she did, he was standing right there.
“Hello. I’m Ravi. You must be Mrs Kishore.”
“Vidya. Yes, Kishore is my husband. Do you work in the Finance department, as well?”
“Oh god, no. I’m in Product Innovation. I get invited to these Finance things, because I need their money to try out my hare-brained ideas. So I spend a lot of time sucking up, as it were.”
“And what have you innovated so far? Ravi, did you say your name was?”
“I see. Are we playing that game?”
“I’m married, Ravi.”
“Yep. I got that. You chose the safety of your family and.. and.. that.”
“You are talking about my husband.”
“Yes. I know exactly what I am talking about. You could marry him, after all that we went through.”
“What about you? You must have a wife or girlfriend, no?”
“No. I am not married. I don’t have any girlfriend either.”
“You didn’t want to marry?”
He looked away and across the room. Kishore was hanging on the words of the VP, oblivious of his wife.
“Well, here’s the thing, Vidya. I couldn’t marry. Not after …”
Vidya drained her rum and coke and turned around to put the glass on the bar. The bartender looked at her inquiringly and she nodded. She remained leaning on the bar until the fresh rum and coke arrived.
When she turned, Ravi was still standing there, watching her.
“We should meet up one of these days for old time’s sake.”
Vidya drained her second rum and coke and said, “I’m going home. Here is my cell phone number. Call me sometime.”
She walked away towards Kishore.
“Excuse me, Mukul. Can I just grab my husband for a minute?”
Mukul Gupta, VP Finance, smiled benevolently, “Oh, Kishore was just telling us about how you keep the house so beautifully. He is very proud of your housekeeping skills.”
“Oh, but I also sell soap and shampoo, did he tell you that?”
“You are a funny lady. Kishore, you are a very lucky man, smart wife.”
Kishore stepped away and said, “What has happened, Vidya?”
“Nothing major. Look, I’m not feeling very good, so want to go home. I’ll send Zafar back for you. At this time the traffic isn’t that bad.”
“Actually, let Zafar be after he’s dropped you home. I’ll grab a lift from Vishnu, he’s just around the corner from us.”
Vidya’s phone beeped as Zafar started the car.
“When do we meet?”
She didn’t respond. She had to think. She went home, changed and got into bed. Her head throbbed, the TV refused to hold her attention. She tried to read, but the words swam across the page.
That one meeting turned to several. They met for lunch, often in his apartment. Ravi was quite content to be with her. The subject of her leaving Kishore never came up.
“He’s a nice guy, but my god, he is boring. He doesn’t seem to have read or seen anything outside his finance and management books.”
Over the weeks, Vidya’s irritation with Kishore grew. Yes, he was a nice guy, but he had never seemed so insipid until Ravi came back into her life.
The chandelier lay in the spare bedroom. Packed up still in its carton.
It was Thursday morning in the car when Kishore put his paper down and looked out of the window of the car.
“That café, there. Has it always been there? Or is it new?”
“Which? Oh that thing with the red and white awning in front? Yes, it’s new, about a couple of months.”
“Oh. I hadn’t noticed it before.”
Vidya looked at him. Kishore looked a little thoughtful, a strange tension seemed to grip him.
On Friday, Vidya told Ravi about it.
“He was very weird. He suddenly seemed a little tired. I’ve never seen him look up from his papers before. It was the Café Delicioso place he noticed. Remember, we went there last week. Nice coffee, but the banana bread had that nasty icing on top.”
Saturday was the day when both Vidya and Kishore got up late. Somehow, the custom had been built up to have toast, coffee, eggs and sausage or bacon. It was a change from the cereal on weekdays.
“You know, we never did put up that chandelier”, said Kishore.
“Oh god, yes. I’d forgotten all about it.”
“How come? I remember you bugged me for weeks to buy it.”
“I don’t know why. Life has been very busy. Work is maddening.”
“Well, let’s do it now.”
The Sunday papers had a paragraph on the third page about the accidental death of a young wife of a bank executive. She had been a rising star in the marketing industry herself. The couple had been installing a heavy chandelier in their house. The chandelier had broken loose and crashed on the wife below. She was killed instantly.
Kishore was inconsolable, his tears kept flowing. Among the group of sympathizers who had gathered for the funeral services was Ravi. Ravi seemed to have aged about twenty years. He reached out to Kishore, his hand on his shoulder. They made brief eye contact after an embrace that that seemed to last forever.
It was then that Ravi saw the faintly mocking smile on Kishore’s face.