The Other Woman (Short Story)

Posted: June 27, 2015
Many a time, we live with people who don’t exist. In this story of longings, loneliness and silences three women tell one story. Read on!

Sundays are my days. I always cook the Sunday lunch. It has been my speciality for the past six years. Nani is proud of  my cooking as well as my hair, which is long and black. She never forgets to add that I have inherited her culinary skills and that her coconut oil massages every Saturday made my hair the crowning glory it is today. My skin tone is dark and Nani named me Krishna because Lord Krishna was dark in complexion. I might be dark-skinned which is looked down upon, but I still have the ticket to be charming like her Lord. It’s been ten years since she started living with us in Lucknow. She moved here after Dad expired in a car accident. I was twenty. Nanaji expired even before I was born.

I live in a house which contains three headstrong women Nani, Maa and I. Not to forget Savitri, our maid who does not stay with us but lives in the adjacent street. She has been with us since a decade. There is something about our house that as soon as you enter, you would know that only women live here. Everything stays in place. The garden and the bathroom, both are clean. The kajal on the dressing table stays in its place. Nothing stirs much. But you cannot avoid the silent glares.
Maa and I are both bankers but working with different organizations. Thank God for that! Over the years the silences have been too much at home and to share them at work would have been a tough task.
“Oh! Yes Nani, it will make me fairer and I will find a better qualified groom.”
“Listen Krishna, you should use this homemade face packm” Nani spoke, as if to break the unending stream of thoughts that started to create stories in my head. I replied in jest, “Oh! Yes Nani, it will make me fairer and I will find a better qualified groom.” “No, you don’t get it. I used it when your Nanaji came to see me, I was twelve then. He was twenty-one.” She said in a tone which I knew was full of nostalgia. I smiled. “And I know, I looked prettier and fairer than her, so in a matter of  minutes, the marriage was fixed.”
“Ah! Nani not again, it’s been thirty years since Nanaji expired and you still cannot get over that woman!” I exclaimed in desperation.
Since the day I learnt to understand people, I sensed that Nani lived with a woman who had grown in her head. Now, in my thirties, I completely believe that  Nani needs a shrink. But at 83, I guess it is too late.
It all started when Nanaji got engaged to this girl when he was sixteen. She was twelve at that time. He was deeply in love with her. Nanaji  loved literature and it turned out that she was not only in love with books but a budding poet. They did not marry immediately as Nanaji’s father was of the strict opinion that he should stay in the city and complete his studies first. It was a rare decision. Nanaji was the brightest of the eleven children, so it was expected that once he completed his studies, he would add to the family fortune which were at an all time low.

But it had an abrupt end when the whole village found out that she fell in love with a young British boy who served under the British Raj as a clerk.

Thus, a love story blossomed between them. They wrote letters of love and longing to each other once a month; days were spent in  waiting. Four years passed by and her letters became shorter, while Nanaji kept writing longer and longer letters. But it had an abrupt end when the whole village found out that she fell in love with a young British boy who served under the British Raj as a clerk. The family was excommunicated. The father threw her out of the house. The young British boy married her. He took her to England, but it is said that she died within a year because she could not withstand the climate.
“That woman was such a disgrace, not only to the whole village but to the whole community. She fell for a meat-eating Gora; and married him too.” Naniji barged into my thoughts with a hateful tone. “But Nani, how can you be sure she was in love. She  had only talked to that Gora, which the villagers saw and once he tried holding her hand. For God’s sake she was just sixteen; maybe it was just a crush,” I retorted. Nani made a twisted face and said, “She did love him and what not, she married him; and became a meat-eating Gora too. The Gods punished her and she died.” “
“But did she have any other option? She was just sixteen when she was thrown out of her house. She could hardly fend for herself,” I replied. “I might not have been as good as her, but I always stood high on moral grounds; once I was engaged to your Nanaji, I never looked at or thought of any other man,” Nani retorted.
Nothing that had any association with that woman had any entry in our house. He did not allow your mother to go for walks with her friends.
“Your Nanaji  hated her. He told me this when we got married. He hated her so much that when your Maa wanted to study literature during her graduation he made her study commerce. Nothing that had any association with that woman had any entry in our house. He did not allow your mother to go for walks with her friends. I was denied the same because he believed the outer world might corrupt us. That was how much he loved your mother and me,” she continued with a touch of pride.
I started mashing the potatoes for the paranthas. I ignored Nani, thinking instead of Maa and her growing silence over the years. She goes to work, comes home and sleeps. It is the same routine every day. Did Nanaji love Nani? I tried to put some logic to it. I guess he hated the other woman. That’s what he really did. His whole lifetime was spent trying not to create another woman who would abandon him again. Maa bore the brunt of it all. She was the only child and every move of hers was monitored.
But destiny had other plans, history repeated itself. Maa fell in love with Daddy, who was her professor in college. The day she graduated, she eloped with Daddy and moved to Lucknow. That was the last time Maa and Nanaji saw each other. Within a year he succumbed to three massive heart attacks. I was born. Nani told me that while Nanaji was on his deathbed, he started hallucinating. All he kept saying was, “He took her away.” I still have my doubts whether he was talking about Maa or the woman whom he once truly and deeply loved; the other woman!
Nani lived all her life trying to be  better than the other woman whom she had only heard about.
Nani lived all her life trying to be  better than the other woman whom she had only heard about. She started reading and writing poems as well; Nanaji lived his whole life creating another woman who would not leave him for anything. The other woman had haunted me since the day I learnt to think.
Nani stayed with us, on and off until Dad expired. But Nani created that other woman in my life until one day I finally saw her, met her and ran away from her.
The first time, I knew that the other existed was when I started going to school. Nani was staying with us. One day I overslept, Nani screamed from the other room, “If you do not wake up early, the other girls will take the first row of seats and you will have to take the last.” That day, I ran faster to school, I wanted to outrun the other girl.
I reached school on time, sat in the front row. I went back from school and told Nani how I had managed to get the first row. But she retorted that maybe the other girl was absent or sick. So, from that day my journey to find and then become the other girl began. She never left me. When I lost a friend, it was always the other girl, who could actually be friends with my lost friend. When I played Cinderella in the school play, I always doubted if I could match the other girl. I worked harder, I studied even harder, but the other girl always looked a little better. It seemed to me that she could ride the cycle faster, understand mathematics better, she was prettier and charming. She was always an inch better than me, no matter how hard I tried.
When I was seventeen, I had a huge crush on a new boy who came to our class. By that time I was convinced about the other girl. I completely believed that he will fall for some other girl.
When I was seventeen, I had a huge crush on a new boy who came to our class. By that time I was convinced about the other girl. I completely believed that he would fall for some other girl. I could only wish and pray to be just a friend and the desperation to become the other girl began. One day, I saw the guy I had a crush on, talking lovingly to another girl in the school corridors. The girl was wearing a pink headband and a pink watch. From that day, pink became my favourite colour.
The other woman finally won, when I fell in love with Pranab. I was dating him for the past two years. He wanted to marry me but deep down, the other woman knew better. She already had him, even when he promised the moon and the stars to me. I  became obsessed with her. I trolled his Facebook account, his mails, his phone book… I trolled every woman he knew. I just could not believe that I could love someone so dearly and be loved back. I had an issue with every woman he knew. Finally, one day he refused to take it anymore and left me.
I could not breathe or talk for months. I lived in a daze. The only saving grace was the Tanpura, Maa taught me to play when I was a child.
I could not breathe or talk for months. I lived in a daze. The only saving grace was the Tanpura, Maa taught me to play when I was a child. Nanaji himself was a great Tanpura player. In the evenings when he had nothing to talk about and no one had anything to share,  he taught Maa the Tanpura and Nani made sure she learnt it too. Over the years, when no one had anything to say, we three women resorted to the Tanpura. That united us.
“Arre Krishna di, lunch is almost ready.” I turned to see. It was Savitri, our maid who almost shrieked over my head with delight. Today she was wearing a few red and black threads around her neck and her forehead was smeared with grey ashes. I almost lost my temper. “Savitri, its been five years since your husband left you. He has a new family at the other end of the city. He won’t return. Can’t you just accept it and move on ? Going to the Babaji every weekend won’t help, it never did. All you do is spent your salary in just two visits.”
Suddenly I heard my phone buzz. It was a text message. I asked Savitri to wake up Maa for lunch, and reluctantly looked at the phone screen, it was from an unidentified number. My heart lost a beat. Could it be Pranab? My heart raced, like it always did when it was an unidentified number. I read the message. It was from the new manager who had joined our organization yesterday. I smiled at myself.
“Krishna, how much noise you make while cooking, you keep the whole house awake,” said Maa as she sleepily walked towards the dining table. How much silence was needed to lull the demons within, I thought to myself.
As we sat for lunch the sun was already low. It was a very late lunch. Maa suddenly blurted out, “It’s been long since we  played the Tanpura .” I suddenly felt happy and said, “Yes! Let’s play my favorite raag.”
Nani said with her years of authority, “No, let’s play the other, we play it the best.”
“Yes! The other, the only one which we play perfectly together.” I said, as I looked at the kitchen garden, a bird pecking at an already dying vegetable plant.
Old Indian lady image via Shutterstock

First published here




Proud Indian. Senior Writer at Women's Web. Columnist. Book Reviewer. Street Theatre - Aatish. Dreamer.

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Comments

1 Comment


  1. The story is good, but the way it is written is confusing. Expression of writing needs a little polish! 🙂

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