By: Rrashima Swaarup Verma


Diya was new to the condominium. It had in fact, barely been a couple of months but she liked it already. She didn’t live here, she simply worked in the swanky salon that had recently opened in the clubhouse for the residents. But, it was certainly a beautiful place. Elegant landscaping, three tier security and all the infrastructural facilities that anyone could want.

‘And the best part is that the residents are an educated, cultured lot,’ the lady who had got her the job, had said. She was the wife of a real estate broker who had successfully concluded several deals here. ‘Well-travelled, well-read, well-heeled. They are in fact, the crème de la crème of Gurgaon.’ Diya didn’t really know the meaning of the last term, but she didn’t seek clarification for fear of sounding stupid. ‘Even their choice in events is so sophisticated,’ the lady had continued. ‘Rather than the tacky Diwali and New Year parties that are regular affairs in most places, here they have book clubs and Sufi nights and Halloween parties. Do you know what they serve on Independence Day after the flag hoisting? Not your ubiquitous samosa-chai-jalebi. Here they have things like corn and pomegranate chaat bowls, mango smoothies and sabudana waffles.’

Even as she recalled the conversation, Diya smiled to herself. She couldn’t blame the lady. Most people were impressed with the place.

Glancing at her watch, Diya realized that it was only nine o’clock. The salon didn’t open until ten thirty and she had more than enough time to get it ready for the residents. It was a lovely day for sitting outdoors and she settled down on one of the benches at the entrance of the clubhouse. The marigolds blooming in the small green patch on the side, shimmered in the morning sun. Her mother always said that marigolds represent power, light and strength. And how pretty they looked, with their tiny florets and delicate, ruffled petals. She liked them all, but the white ones with the little auburn centers were the best.

The sound of voices snapped her out of her thoughts. A group of five women had congregated a little distance away. Diya recognized all of them, since they regularly dropped into the salon for beauty treatments, though she wasn’t particularly fond of any of them. ‘The one in the pink tracks is the worst of them all,’ she thought to herself now. ‘Never leaves a decent tip and expects the world.’ She knew that the lady was a lawyer with a multinational firm and must be earning a handsome salary every month.

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‘Did you hear about what happened last night? Between that couple that lives in the next tower on the second floor? Vivek and Shalini Chaudhary.’

The lawyer’s voice was loud, so much so that despite sitting a few steps away, Diya could hear every word.

‘I heard they had a fight.’ This one was an English teacher. She usually had a calm demeanour about her, but today she almost looked as though she was bursting with anticipation. ‘The family in the next door apartment heard it all. They were both yelling at each other and then….’ Her voice trailed off, as though she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

‘He hit her. Slapped her multiple times.’ The lawyer completed the sentence for her. ‘Their neighbours could hear her cursing and crying for several hours after that.’

‘Such a shame!’ The only non-working woman in the group shuddered. ‘Imagine something like this happening here! I always thought this kind of stuff happens in the slums. This is supposed to be an educated community.’

‘Someone should tell her to file a police complaint,’ a petite looking woman added. She was a new mother and the youngest in the group. She looked at the lawyer. ‘Madhu you’re the best person to advise her. Take her to the nearest police station.’

‘Me?’ The lawyer looked heavenwards. ‘I’m a corporate lawyer, not a women’s attorney. And frankly, it’s not my business. Besides, can you imagine how the property prices of the condo will fall if word gets around that the cops had to be called? Such a mortifying situation.’

To a stranger, the conversation might have sounded as though the women were relating an episode from a popular soap opera. Diya however, knew the lady they were talking about. Shalini Chaudhary was one of the fussiest women Diya had met. It was common knowledge that she took 40 minutes just to get her eyebrows threaded, and was notorious for making any beautician’s life miserable.

‘It’s mortifying all right.’ The teacher’s voice had a tone of incredulity. ‘Vivek is from an Ivy League university for God’s sake! He’s heading corporate communications for one of the biggest MNC’s in the world. And Shalini! Look at her! She’s beautiful, intelligent, successful. Who could have imagined she would be a victim of domestic abuse!’

‘You know, I can’t help but wonder.’ The young mother spread her hands out in bewilderment. ‘Vivek is usually such a gentleman. Always open doors for the ladies, unfailingly remembers to take their bags in the elevators. That day, I had just returned from the supermarket. I was struggling with the pram and trying to juggle 3 bags of groceries. Vivek rushed to help me as soon as he saw me.’

‘Maybe she did something to provoke him?’ The fifth member of the group had a non-committal tone, as though she was merely suggesting a possibility. Diya looked at her. She was a recently divorced IT professional. Rather reticent, she preferred to stick with the few friends she had in the community. ‘For all you know, she could be having an affair.’

‘I don’t understand.’ Not able to stop herself any longer, Diya rose from the bench and walked toward them. ‘Seriously, enlighten me please. How is all this relevant to what happened? His Ivy League education and profession, her beauty and success, their status.’ She started ticking them off her fingers. ‘The fact that he opens doors, or even the possibility that she might be having an affair. Does any of this justify the fact that he hit her? Or are you merely trying to find reasons to disbelieve, to refute an ugly truth?’

‘Excuse me?’ The young mother glared at Diya. ‘You’re interrupting a private conversation.’

Diya shook her head. ‘Hardly private Ma’am. The way all of you are gossiping about it, the whole condominium will know soon enough.’

‘How dare you?’ The lawyer’s voice shook with indignation. ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’

‘Relax Madhu. She’s just a beautician. Don’t let her get under your skin.’

The teacher then turned to Diya. ‘Try to understand, my dear girl.’ She spoke with exaggerated patience, as though she was trying to explain something to a very stupid person. ‘This is the first time something like this has happened here. These things are not supposed to happen in a place like this.’

‘These things aren’t supposed to happen anywhere.’  There was a palpable tremor in Diya’s usually steady voice. ‘But they do.’ She turned to look directly at the lawyer. ‘You see Ma’am, a perpetrator of domestic violence doesn’t necessarily fit into a specific income status, class or education bracket. Domestic violence is a punishable crime whether it happens in a high end condo or in a slum. Though I’m amazed that I have to tell you that. After all, even though you’re not a women’s attorney, I’m sure you’re adequately familiar with these things to know that victims of abuse can be anywhere. Your friend, your colleague, your daughter, you.’

‘Yes, a victim of abuse can be anywhere.’

The group spun around. There was a collective gasp. Shalini Chaudhary stood in front of them. It was obvious that she’d heard the conversation. They’d been so engrossed that they hadn’t even noticed her.

‘A victim of abuse can be anywhere,’ repeated Shalini. ‘Right now, she’s standing in front of you.’ She ripped off her designer sunglasses to reveal a black eye. Then, she scrubbed off the expensive foundation she was wearing with a tissue. Underneath it, her skin had turned an ugly shade of purple during the course of the night.

Diya shuffled her feet. Despite her earlier bravado, she now felt her knees buckling underneath her. Just standing there, looking at the familiar bruises, seeing her own past pain reflected in a stranger’s eyes, was almost too much to bear. After all, she had nothing in common with this woman. And yet, she did. Lifting her head, she saw that Shalini was looking straight at her.

‘You were looking at the marigolds earlier, weren’t you?’

‘Yes.’ Diya nodded, surprised at the sudden change in subject.

‘I love marigolds.’ Shalini walked the few steps to the green patch where the marigolds were blooming.

Diya stared at Shalini as she bent down to inhale the heady fragrance. Then she touched the velvety, soft petals of one small flower.

‘Power and light,’ said Diya suddenly. ‘That’s what they represent.’

‘Power and light,’ repeated Shalini. ‘Just what I need.’

The flowers seemed to nod in agreement.

The two women smiled at each other. None of the other women could meet their eyes.

‘Marigolds represent one more thing.’ Diya reached out and took Shalini’s hand. ‘Strength. The strength to take the right decisions.’

‘Thank you.’ Shalini squeezed Diya’s hand. Her eyes were brimming and she put her sunglasses back on.

Then she turned to look at the teacher. ‘And by the way. This is certainly not the first time something like this has happened here. Oh, and one more thing.’  This time her gaze stopped at the young mother. ‘You had better get used to carrying your own grocery bags in the elevator. That “gentleman” you were talking about isn’t going to be around to do it for you anymore.’

















About the Author

Rrashima Swaarup Verma

Rrashima is a senior corporate analyst with over 20 years of experience in the corporate sector. She is also a prolific writer, novelist and poet and her articles, stories and poems are regularly published in read more...

30 Posts | 34,338 Views

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