You May Be My Husband, But You Can’t Enter And Exit My Life At Your Convenience!

It was Kiran’s turn to be quiet. She had never imagined a situation where her husband would ask her to help him out. Her mind drifted to that awful day three years ago.

“Good afternoon, Sir.” Kiran smiled for the umpteenth time in the day. “Whom do you want to meet?”

As usual, there was a steady footfall of visitors into the modest office of Ahluwalia & Brothers, the largest law firm in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. All the three principal occupants of the office had visitors in their cabins, with more waiting on the six-seater sofa at the reception lounge. As the office receptionist, Kiran was the first to greet these regulars and strangers.

An employee of the firm for three years, Kiran was an expert at what she did. Her face broke into an effortless smile at the sight of a visitor. Other staff and regular visitors of the firm had gotten used to her as one would to a sturdy piece of furniture that would be missed if moved out of its usual place.

“Mr Ahluwalia is running behind schedule,” she informed the latest visitor, with just the right inflexion in her tone, “please take a seat. I will ask a runner to put a chair beside the sofa.”

Kiran’s cellphone rang just then. Accustomed to the landline ring than the buzz of her mobile at that hour, she frowned at the unknown number.

‘A telemarketer again,’ she thought while taking the call, with the ‘I don’t want anything’ response already formed in her mind.

“Hello. Kiran?”  Kiran’s smile vanished at the sound of the voice on the other end.

“Kiran, it’s me, Pranjal. Can you hear me?” the caller asked.

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“Yes. What do you want?” The words somehow reached Kiran’s mouth.

“Thank God I found you,” Pranjal remarked.

‘After three years,’ Kiran mused.

“Look, I am in a bit of trouble. I understand from Bapu that you are earning well on your own. Can you give me some money, please?” The please sounded more like an afterthought.

“What happened to your money? And why don’t you ask Yamini to help you out?”

“Yamini has run away with all my money. I don’t have a rupee to pay the rent of my room.”

“So that’s why you remembered me. How can you expect me to help you after what you did to me?”

“Well, you are my wife after all.”

“Excuse me!” Kiran looked up at the summon of a visitor standing in front of her at the reception counter. “Give me a moment, please,” she requested the visitor with a smile and turned her attention to the caller. “I am at work. I will speak to you in the evening.”

“I don’t have much time, Kiran,” her husband said.

“I will talk later,” Kiran remarked and cut the phone. “Whom have you come to meet?” she asked the visitor.

While Kiran appeared as usual from the outside for the rest of the day,  her mind worked like bubbles in boiling water.

Sharp at 6:30 pm, she instructed the security guard on duty to take her place and got up to inspect the visitor’s lounge, the two meeting rooms, the pantry and the washrooms.

“Refill the soap in the dispenser at the gent’s washroom,” she instructed the housekeeping boy before leaving for the day.

When the office was ten minutes behind her, Kiran called her father-in-law in Bongaigaon, Assam, from the auto. The network was always better on this side of the city than where her PG was.

“Namaste, Babuji,” she greeted the old man at the other end. “Anand’s father had called today,” she confided after the usual pleasantries.

“I see. He had also called me in the afternoon today. I told him that his kids and I are doing very well, thanks to you, and he need not worry about us.”

Despite herself, Kiran smiled, imagining the conversation between her husband and father-in-law. Even she was scared of the old man’s temper.

“Pranjal is asking me for money, Babuji. Apparently, his lover has run away with his money.”

There was silence at the other end.

“I don’t want to give him my hard-earned money, which I save for the education of your grandchildren. But I will do as you say, Babuji.”

As the silence continued, Kiran wondered if the line had got disconnected. After a considerable pause and a tiny cough, Babuji said, “Beta, all said and done, he is my son and your husband. I would like you to help him if you can. But I will understand if you don’t.”

It was Kiran’s turn to be quiet. She had never imagined a situation where her husband would ask her to help him out. Her mind drifted to that awful day three years ago.

*

“So, this was why you had not visited home from Delhi for two years,” Babuji shouted at Pranjal, his only son. “Not sending any money to your father, not calling your wife, not asking after your children. I had heard that people change after going to the big city from a small town. Now I have seen it with my own eyes.”

With head bowed, Kiran cried silent tears on the bed. Her four-year-old son and five-year-old daughter clung to her, scared of the commotion. They had never seen anyone in their joint family so angry till now.

“Bapu, I have fallen in love,” Pranjal said, defiant.

“How dare you say that when you are a father of two children and have such a good wife in Kiran?”

“Bapu, I don’t love Kiran. You and her father got us married when she was sixteen, and I eighteen. Now that I am grown up, I realise that she is a dark and ugly woman whom I can’t even introduce to my friends in Delhi. I love Yamini, who is a smart and intelligent lady. In fact, why don’t you meet Yamini? I am sure that you will approve of my choice once you see her.”

“I am not meeting this other woman of yours. Kiran is and will always remain my daughter-in-law. She won’t sign on the divorce papers.”

“Bapu, but…”

“No ifs and buts,” the patriarch cut his son off. “If you want your share of the family property, you will have to give your wife due respect. Else I will change my will. Understand? You better understand.”

Pranjal did not say anything.

“You are taking Kiran with you tomorrow to Delhi,” the old man ordered before turning to Kiran. “Beta, go and pack your bags. Once you stay with each other, my foolish son will come to his senses.”

“But the children, Babuji?”

“Don’t worry about them. I am here. My sisters-in-law and their bahus are here. After you settle down there, you both can come and take the children. Meanwhile, do make sure that Pranjal sends money for Anand and Neha’s education.”

The next day, Kiran was on the train to Delhi with her husband. The two barely exchanged ten words during the twenty-four-hour journey.

When the train touched the Old Delhi station, there was chaos in the exit door of the sleeper class, with passengers in a hurry to get off and coolies climbing aboard even before the train had stopped on its tracks. Somehow Kiran managed to get down, and followed her husband to a pillar at the platform, far away from where they had alighted.

“Kiran, stay here for a few minutes. I will go and get a coolie,” Pranjal said.

“We have two bags between the two of us. Why take a coolie?”

“I don’t want you to carry that heavy bag. We have to climb up the stairs and go all the way to the other end. So, stay put here.”

“There are coolies all over. Why not call someone over?”

“These young coolies will charge exorbitantly. I will get someone old who is sitting idle. We will save ten-thirty rupees that way. Now, if your questions are over, can I go?”

Kiran nodded mutely, and Pranjal left her standing by the pillar with the luggage.

That was the last she saw and heard of her husband.

The sun’s morning rays gave way to the afternoon heat, but there was no sign of Pranjal. Frantic, she called him multiple times, only to hear ‘the number you have dialled is switched off’ each time.

Not knowing where her husband lived or worked in this strange new city, Kiran sat on the ground with a thud and began to cry.

Many bystanders and passerbys’ noticed the solitary woman shedding copious tears, but no one came to the stranger’s aid, except for the man getting down from the AC class from one of the evening trains.

“Excuse me, Ma’am.” Kiran looked up with a start. A tall man with horn-rimmed spectacles stood in front of her. Too desolate to be scared of the stranger, she didn’t know what to say as the stranger continued, “Can I help you in any way? It will be night soon, and it won’t be safe for you to be here like this.”

Something inside Kiran made her trust the kind stranger. Through wild sobs, she narrated the tale of her husband’s infidelity to him abandoning her earlier that day.

“Preposterous! A man cannot treat a lady, much less his wife, like this,” a flabbergasted Mr Ahluwalia said.

Kiran sobbed some more.

“Don’t cry, Madam, please; it won’t help you anyway. I cannot let you be alone like this. I can help you get a return ticket back to Assam from here.”

Kiran took a deep breath.

“No, Sir. I have two kids to look after. Their education should not suffer because their father has abandoned them. I will have more opportunities to provide from them from here.”

“Come with me then. I have a law firm at Meerut, about two hours from here. I don’t know your qualifications, but I am sure I will find something suitable for you there.”

Mr Ahluwalia had appointed her as a clerk in his office and helped her with a PG accommodation. Subsequently, she worked her way up as a receptionist-cum-office supervisor at Ahluwalia&Brothers, making enough money to spend on herself and send her family back home.

*

“Beta, are you there?” The words of her father-in-law broke into Kiran’s reverie.

“Yes, Babuji,” she said hastily. “I understand. I will do as you say.”

“Jeeti Raho, Beta. Put me on the phone when he is near you. I want to make sure that he doesn’t harm you in any way.”

“Don’t worry, Babuji. He will not be able to harm me.”

Kiran finished the call as the auto drew in front of her two-story PG. She smiled at the friendly landlady on the porch but went straight to her first-floor room instead of stopping for the customary chat. She closed the door and plopped down on the bed.

‘Might as well get done with it,’ she told herself and searched for Pranjal’s number from the day’s call history.

Her husband picked the call at the first ring.

“Kiran, I was beginning to wonder if you would call me. I..”

“How much money do you want?” Kiran cut him off.

“Uh..Oh… Forty Thousand Rupees.”

That was a significant portion of her savings. “Very well. Come tomorrow at my office sharp at 1 pm,” she said.

“Tomorrow? At the office? Why can’t I come now to collect the money at your place?” Pranjal insisted.

“One, I don’t have that much cash with me. Two, a man can’t come to the women’s PG where I am staying. Three, I don’t want you to know where I stay and, unlike you, am woman enough to say it directly to your face.”

The whirring noise of the ceiling fan in Kiran’s room was the only noise to be heard for some time.

“Fine,” Pranjal said.

“Take a pen and paper and note down my office address. And come sharp at 1 pm. That is my lunchtime, and I will be free only for half an hour then.”

*

Kiran saw a familiar yet distant figure come into view just as the wall clock at the reception of Ahluwalia&Brothers struck one. She indicated to the security guard to let the stocky moustached man enter the office, hoping that her face didn’t betray the emotions she felt. The same clean-shaven face, the thin smile on lips, the dark circles below the eyes- her husband hadn’t changed in all these years.

Pranjal’s eyes went wide as he saw Kiran.

“Come, let’s go to a meeting room,” Kiran said before he could open his mouth, and moved towards the second door to her right. Pranjal followed.

“Good to see you, Kiran,” he said as soon as he closed the door behind them. “You have changed a lot,” he said admiringly.

“No, I have not,” Kiran replied. “I may no longer look like a dark, ugly girl from the outside, having the time and inclination to take care of myself. But from inside, I am still the same person.” She had the satisfaction to see Pranjal wince.

“Look, Kiran, I know I made a mistake. I should not have left you in the station that day. I panicked, not knowing where to take you since Yamini and I lived together. I hadn’t told her about my marriage to you.”

“So, like a coward, you abandoned me in a strange new place. Without bothering to find out if I am alive or dead all these years.”

“No, no. I did think about you.”

No signs of remorse. Kiran was right; her husband hadn’t changed in all these years.

“Here is the 40k you asked for. Take it and leave,” Kiran said, taking out a bundle of notes from her handbag. “This is the first and last time that I am giving my money to you. Next time you show up anywhere near me, I will call the police.”

“Thanks, Kiran,” Pranjal scooped the bundle of notes from Kiran’s hands. “I say, Kiran, let’s forget the past and start a new chapter. After all, we are still husband and wife.”

Kiran started laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“You. You are such a megalomaniac to think I will erase the past three years from my memory at first sight of you. Or even the years before that, for that matter. My skin may be dusky, but I have seen the light. You can’t enter and exit my life at your convenience. No one can.”

“I am your husband.”

“On paper, yes. I don’t want to do anything from my end to rock the boat of my children any further. I will be happy to see you in court, though, should you want a divorce,” she coolly remarked. “Now, get out from here before I change my mind about the money.”

She opened the door to see Mr Ahluwalia standing there with a visitor.

“Oh, I am sorry, Kiran. I didn’t realise you were inside with someone.” His glance went from Kiran to Pranjal and then back again to Kiran.

“No problem, Sir. He is just leaving.” She looked at Pranjal.

Pranjal hastily left.

“Seems like a shady chap,” Mr Ahluwalia said when Pranjal had gone out the office door. “You know him well?”

Kiran took a deep breath.

“I knew him once, but he is a stranger now,” she said firmly before walking towards her place at the reception counter, a smile on her face.

Image source: a still from the series Four More Shots Please

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About the Author

Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...

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