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Ravi felt ashamed at his impetuousness. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath and then said in a steady voice, ‘I just saw her engagement pictures and got curious.’
‘Beauty is skin deep Ravi. In the long run it’s the inner beauty that matters,’ it was Chetan’s voice. Shreya had paused for a moment on the open door of Ravi’s apartment when she overheard him. She didn’t want to eavesdrop but this conversation had caught her curiosity.
‘But what is the use of inner beauty if the exterior is unattractive,’ Ravi said.
‘I find Shreya charming. I don’t know what your definition of attractive is.’ Chetan’s voice was earnest.
What on earth are they talking about her?! Shreya’s heartbeat increased and she came closer to the door. She started listening with the utmost alacrity.
‘Yeah but look at her complexion. She is very dark. I wouldn’t be able to introduce her proudly to my family.’ It was Ravi’s voice that went right through Shreya’s heart and bore a hole there. She felt her mind going numb and could not afford to stand there any longer.
Ravi and Shreya were doing MBA from Delhi. Both had done B.Tech and had known each other for the past one year. Ravi was a Delhite while Shreya was from Bangalore. Ravi was 6 feet tall, fair and had a toned body. He wanted a tall, beautiful and fair girl with flawless skin. Shreya was of medium height and leaned towards the heavier side. She had pimpled skin and was many shades darker than any other girl in her class. She did not match his version of beauty.
Shreya came back to her apartment. As if in a spell she opened the lock, dropped her bag on the sofa and switched on the TV. A fairness cream advertisement was being displayed which claimed to make girls ‘fairer’ with regular use. There was a scale to show the different shades of the skin. Hers did not even match the darkest one. She switched off the TV and went in the kitchen. Though she was trying to distract her mind as much as possible, it no longer was in her control and she broke down. She sat in a corner in the kitchen and wept for over ten minutes. However, it only gave her strength and resolve to believe in herself.
It was 7 pm and Geetika, her roommate, was about to come. She was pouring tea in the cups when the doorbell rang. Geetika was back from office. Geetika was in her late twenties and worked in a bank. As she entered the room she glanced at Shreya and knew something was amiss.
‘Have you been crying Shreya,’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ Shreya was candid. Her eyes were still red and she was savouring her tea.
Geetika removed her sandals and sat on the sofa with folded legs. She switched on the TV and started a news channel. ‘Why?’ she did not sound alarmed. She rarely was. She was the most calm and composed girl Shreya had ever met.
‘I went to Ravi’s apartment and I overheard him telling Chetan that he does not want to marry me because I am black,’ Shreya’s voice was steady.
Geetika was surprised, ‘Really? From whatever you had told me about him, he seemed to be a considerate guy. But anyway, that was his opinion. Not a reason enough to cry.’ She looked at her in a quizzical way.
Shreya shrugged, ‘Yaar it really hurt me at that moment. Moreover, crying always helps me regain my peace of mind.’
She changed her posture and continued, ‘We have spent so much time together in the past one year that it was hard for me to believe that he thinks this way about me. I had started liking him and really got emotional on hearing it.’
Geetika nodded in agreement, ‘Hmm… so are you going to tell him?’
‘There is no point in doing that. I don’t like him anymore,’ Shreya’s snapped.
‘True. How can a person who judges someone on the basis of their skin colour be liked?’ Geetika said in a thoughtful way.
Ravi had noticed a change in Shreya’s behaviour in the past few months. She had stopped studying, going to movies and hanging around with him. As if out of nowhere a wide chasm had suddenly grown between them. He did not know the reason and had tried to ask her several times. In the absence of a satisfactory reply he was left with no other option but to comply with the new situation. However, he missed being with her. She was a great companion. She could talk on almost any topic with a command and pace that was hard to match. She was witty and her quick retorts could quieten anyone messing with her. She was bold and confident.
Ravi tried to drop her from his life. Nevertheless, he found himself thinking about her most of the time. By now he had some inkling that Shreya wanted more than being friends with him. However, he was not ready to compromise with the priorities of his life partner. Six months went past like this and after the third semester was over, campus placements started.
Shreya got a job in Bangalore while Ravi remained in Delhi.
Although Ravi had lost contact with Shreya, he used to check her Facebook account regularly for any updates. However, with time its frequency declined and memories started to fade away.
It was in a cousin’s marriage that Ravi saw Nikita for the first time. It was a face that could trigger quickening of the pulse and weakening of the knees. She had a narrow nose with pointed tip. Her eyes were carved out of blue sapphire and looked enchanting. Her pink cheeks, her narrow chin and her luscious lips seemed to be casting a spell on anyone who came her way. All through the ceremony he watched her with such longing interest that his dreamy eyes might well have set someone skeptical about the sanity of their holder.
She was doing hotel management course from Jaipur. All the time she was flanked with her gal pals and he could not get a chance to talk to her. He knew he had to act fast, for she will soon vanish from that place.
‘Hey Ravi come here?’ his mother waved at him from a distance. She introduced him to a woman who gave him a broad smile in return and looked at him adoringly. He smiled back and turned to his mother, ‘mom can I talk to you for a minute?’
He was surprised to know that the woman whom his mother had introduced him to was Nikita’s mother. ‘I have been noticing you all night son,’ she slapped him on his cheeks. ‘Even I liked this girl when I saw her and I think she is a good match for you.’
After that night, things went quickly. They met, their families met; they talked, their families talked and their marriage date got finalized. His friends were envious of him to see her picture. His cousins started teasing him that her beauty had surpassed his own – for he himself was very handsome with sharp masculine features.
Two years had passed since Ravi and Nikita got married. There were problems right from the beginning but they thought things will sort out on their own with passing time. However, they only worsened. They had nothing to talk about in common. She was not interested in current news, movies or sports; he was not interested in who married whom in some TV serial and which celebrities are stealthily dating. He found her tiresome and boring; she found him withdrawn and sniffy. He wanted her to carry herself with attitude, mingle with his friends and talk in fluent English in parties; she wanted to be left alone in peace and was comfortable in her mother tongue only. He wanted her to wear dresses; she felt uncomfortable in evening gowns. The list was long. Almost daily they had a confrontation about something which she considered petty and he, crucial. She was exhausted of his litany of expectations.
One day while peeping into Shreya’s Facebook account he saw her standing with a guy tagged by her as Gaurav. She had captioned it ‘engagement pics’. He was few inches taller than her and was very fair. He had big eyes and strong jaws and looked attractive.
Ravi’s heart sank. He obviously knew Shreya would get married some day. Nonetheless, this news quickened his pulse. He could see Chetan standing behind the couple. Chetan was working in Bangalore and was in touch with Shreya. Ravi immediately called him to know the details and was in no mood to beat about the bush. As soon as Chetan picked up the phone Ravi snapped, ‘When did Shreya get engaged?’
‘Hey buddy what happened? Are you okay?’ Chetan was surprised to hear the urgency in Ravi’s tone.
Chetan knew that both Ravi and Shreya liked each other in college, but Ravi didn’t want to make Shreya his girlfriend. However, he, like Ravi could not understand why Shreya had started ignoring Ravi all of a sudden. He had told his own theory about this change in Shreya’s behaviour to Ravi one day, ‘It has been one year and even after liking each other’s company you haven’t expressed your feelings to her. I think she loves you and since her love is unrequited she has started making distance from you.’
That was four years ago. Right now he was listening to the woes of a man who did not know how to make sense of his life. Only last week Ravi had told him about the tensions between him and Nikita and that he was mulling over the prospects of a divorce.
‘Yes Ravi, she got engaged to Gaurav. He is a great guy – very considerate and kind.’
‘I feel I have done a grave mistake by rejecting Shreya. Time used to fly with her; with Nikita it drags. I want to go back and change my past for a better present.’ Ravi said in a husky voice.
‘There is no point in talking about it now. Life is not a Microsoft Word file where you can undo something you don’t like. The ink it uses is indelible Ravi.’
Nikita was born and up brought up in Tonk – a beautiful town in Rajasthan. Her father was a teacher in a government school and mother a homemaker. They were three sisters and all of them had attended a local girls’ school. Her eldest sister worked in bank and the middle one was a Sanskrit teacher. However, right from the school days Nikita found studies boring and books tedious. She liked to remain at home and help her mother in household activities instead. She was a simple and docile girl.
It was in early October that Ravi got a job offer from Pune. He thought may be changing place was a good idea for a man who had been utterly bored with his life. He did not ask Nikita anything about it and told her later when everything had been finalized. She seemed unaffected by the news. She had long stopped arguing, speaking or getting bothered by his presence. Most of the time she was in her cocoon – talking on phone, surfing the internet or watching a TV serial. Her Facebook account, replete with smiling and beaming pictures of her, successfully hid her pain and allowed her to live in a virtually happy world. Scores of friends liked them and envied her beauty and good luck.
Weather was great in Pune and both liked the place instantly. Nikita wondered may be this new city will bring hopes and bliss for their marital life that had been lying in shambles.
On the first day of office when Ravi entered his boss’s room he stood there for a few seconds – perplexed and gazing at his new boss in bewilderment. It was Shreya. He did not see any trace of recognition in her cold eyes. Her attitude towards him was purely professional. He had something else in mind though.
He started looking for reasons to go to her office and made a few attempts to talk about their past. However, she was not interested in anything but work.
Shreya’s presence and her neglect combined with his already pathetic married life created havoc for him. The chance meeting with Shreya seemed like a great opportunity to do right what had been done wrong by him four years ago. But his efforts were of no avail. Shreya remained cold and distant. Ravi’s work output started to decline.
One day he came to office in a particularly bad shape. His dishevelled black hair hanged over his red eyes and pale cheeks. His overall sickly appearance made Shreya call him to her office, ‘Ravi I have been noticing you for days now. You come late, you are always distracted and do not seem to concentrate. Is everything okay? Do you want a sabbatical leave?’
Ravi looked at her and opened his mouth to say something but held his words back.
After staring at the floor for a few seconds he opened his mouth, ‘Can we meet over a cup of coffee?’ He could swear he did not intend to speak those words; they had popped out of his mouth on their own. He waited for her reply with bated breath.
Shreya looked at him and after a brief pause of pondering, agreed.
They met late that afternoon at a coffee shop nearby.
Clad in an off-white cotton salwar kameez, she came with a commanding pace. She appeared a mix of smug and indifferent as she sat on the chair in front of him. Though she wore no make up, she looked a lot more fashion conscious now than she was in college. She wore a beautiful necklace and danglers. Her pimples had vanished and her skin looked smooth and radiant. Ravi looked at her in disbelief. How could he let this woman go?
‘Shreya.. you.. you look beautiful,’ he stammered.
‘Thank you,’ she said curtly, ‘tell me what’s bothering you.’
Her cold reply was disheartening. Nonetheless he continued, ‘Congratulations on your engagement.’
Ravi had been dying to ask her about Gaurav with the fond hope that if something goes wrong between the two he will lap up the opportunity.
‘We broke up. We are no longer together.’
Ravi could not believe his good luck. It felt like destiny wanted to meet them anyway. After a broken engagement and a miserable marriage they are finally going to be together.
‘What happened?’ he tried to sound concerned.
Shreya at first wanted to say, ‘That’s none of your business.’ But decided otherwise and said instead, ‘he got a job in America and we couldn’t maintain a long distance relationship. So we decided it’s better to break up and move on.’
Ravi sensed that this is the best opportunity to confess to her about his love. She was already single and he would divorce his wife.
‘Shreya I wanted to say something to you for a long time but never got an opportunity to do so. Right through our college days I have loved you and wanted to marry you. However, I knew that my parents wouldn’t accept you because of our different castes. Do you remember how after first year you started ignoring me altogether? Even if I wanted to I could not propose to you for marriage. I want to marry you now.’
Shreya hadn’t expected this. Now thinking of it in retrospect, she realized the reason for his frequent visits to her office. Though, anger was brewing inside her, she tried to keep as calm as possible. ‘But you are already married. What about your wife?’
She however, regretted asking that question because Ravi gave her a detailed account of his wife’s naivety and unintelligent persona. His ramblings made her wonder how could she fall for such a jerk who is criticising his wife with such unabashed audacity.
He continued, ‘I will divorce her.’
Then he quickly added defensively, ‘I mean we have already been thinking about parting our ways. We are not happy with each other.’ It was an outright lie. He had never discussed getting a divorce with his wife.
‘So will you not be ashamed of introducing me to your friends and family now? I am still dark?’ Her voice was creditably steady.
Ravi was completely off his guard at that moment. He did not know what to say. How could she know about it? His mind ran off to the memories of all those times he had discussed her skin colour. Only one name came to his mind who could have told her – Chetan.
‘Chetan told you?’ he was in shock.
‘I was right in front of your apartment when you said those words. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It was yours and I respected it. However, after listening to it I started distancing myself from you. Make it very clear right away – I am not in the least interested in you.’
Ravi could no longer look at her. He was stirring his coffee aimlessly.
She continued, ‘your diatribe against your wife tells me lot more about you than about her. Let me give you a free advice – go home and apologize to your wife for the words you have spoken for her today.’
She paid the bill, picked up her car keys form the table and said, ‘now if you will excuse me I have other reservations.’
Without waiting for his reply she stood up and left with her head held high and her long hair flying behind her along with her crisp off-white cotton dupatta.
Image source: a still from Angry Indian Goddesses
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