‘My daughter Neela is very patient. She is responsible, never complains, and is very large-hearted. She enjoys keeping the house ekdum saaf (very clean). She has no other qualities I could boast of though. Very plain looking, sadly she takes after me there.’ said Neela’s father, much to the chagrin of Susheela Tai, their neighbor who stood beside Neela, and tried to catch Neela’s father’s eye.
‘This is why we want Neela for our house.’ said Mrs. Desai, politely declining the homemade chivda (a savory mixture) Susheela Tai’s daughter-in-law offered. ‘I have high BP, I am not supposed to eat all this.’ she smiled warmly.
‘What did you mean when you said ‘this is why we want Neela?’ asked Susheela Tai, her face holding a slight grimace of displeasure.
Mrs Desai turned to her, ‘What does any woman want for her son…I am sorry, I didn’t get your name… I want a girl who is homely, patient, has values, and will stand by my Son. That is what I meant.’ a smile and a loving look in Neela’s direction punctuated this sentence.
‘Oh, that way!’ Susheela Tai nodded, though she didn’t look entirely convinced.
‘When her mother was ill, Neela took care of her like a nurse. Feeding her, bathing her, doing everything. Then I lost my job at the Mill. It was very difficult. Thankfully Neela managed to get a job at the Bank. She was clever in her studies, you see’. Neela’s usually reticent father just couldn’t stop talking today.
‘Bas kara ho aata Bhau(enough of talk now, Brother). Aga let the boy and girl talk. Samir, what did you like in our Neela?’ Susheela Tai smiled at the young couple.
Samir shrugged, ‘She is the best’ his charming smile was flashed around generously.
‘So, what about the wedding then?’ asked Mrs. Desai
‘Wedding? Already, so soon?’ exclaimed Susheela, looking at Neela
‘Why not? I mean, what are we waiting for?’ Mrs Desai looked around
A week ago 2 cars had been sent to pick up Neela, her Father, and the neighbors who were to accompany them. The drive to the other side of the town took a while, but the luxurious comfort of the cars made it feel like it was over too soon.
A month ago, Samir has walked into the Bank he was a special customer of. There had been an issue in a few of his Accounts, and as his CA was away for her maternity leave he had no choice but to approach the Bank for help to sort it out. The Branch Manager personally handled Samir’s request and brought Neela on board to sort out the issues.
For three days Neela worked diligently with Samir to iron out the kinks. As she did, she also gave him the advice to get the best out of the money he invested in this Bank. The end result was a relieved Samir and a very proud Bank Manager, who had bagged more accounts, thanks to Neela.
When Samir walked into the Bank again a few days later, no one was surprised. Everyone was taken aback though when the Manager asked Neela to come into his cabin ‘for a discussion’. When Neela walked out, post the discussion she looked like she had been hit by lightning.
It was only after Samir had been escorted to his car, did the Manger return to announce that Samir wanted to marry Neela. The news was met with stunned silence. Neela burrowed further into her seat when she found all eyes on her.
‘Congratulations! Mrs Sethi chirped, breaking the silence. I always told you good things will happen to you, didn’t I?’ the elderly woman hugged Neela warmly.
The others came up to congratulate her eventually. Some tepidly, others warmly while still others indifferently.
Samir had come to see the Manager to ask for Neela’s parent’s contact details.
Neela had lost her mother to a terminal illness more than a decade ago. Susheela Tai, her mother’s best friend, had taken a teenaged Neela under her wing ever since. As Susheela Tai’s family grew Neela become closer to each one of them. She never missed not having any siblings or a father who only spoke in monosyllables.
Samir’s Mother called Neela’s father that night. Neela had spoken to him, and her neighbors about what happened at the Bank as soon as she got home.
It was natural that Neela wanted not only Susheela Tai but her entire family to accompany her and her father to the Deasi household on their invitation. Everyone wore their finest clothes and Susheela Tai got busy preparing her Ladoos, Chakli’s, and Karnji to take with them.
‘Arre we are going to your to-be Sasural for the first time. How can we go empty-handed?’ she quipped.
Neela blushed. Though nothing still made sense, some part of her was beginning to blossom in happiness. Neela did think of marriage like every girl does, but then also wondered how it would happen. Who would take care of her father when it happened.
The drive from the gate to the Desai home was long. Plants cut in precise lengths graced either side of it. When the guests finally alighted from the car and walked into the house, the floor shone so much that they could see themselves reflected in it.
After some small talk, everyone sat down to lunch. The long table groaned under the weight of the aromatic food served in silver dishes. Liveried staff held the bowls and plates as Mrs. Desai herself served all the guests.
After the sumptuous lunch, Mrs Desai and Samir showed the motley crew around the house. There was much nudging and teasing when everyone entered Samir’s bedroom.
As the others continued their conversation over Tea, Samir escorted Neela to the garden to have theirs.
‘How are you, Neela?’ he asked.
‘I am fine, how are you?’ she answered.
‘This must seem strange to you, right?’.
‘I was very impressed at how you handled my account crisis. I thought to myself this girl can handle anything. And handle it well.’ he smiled.
Neela looked at him, puzzled ‘How is that criteria for choosing a life partner’
‘Neela, let me be very honest with you. I have had many relationships in my life. Some looked great, others were intelligent. Some were moneyed while others were famous. They were all wonderful to be with but no one could handle problems or a crisis. They just disappointed me there’, he shrugged.
‘What crisis exactly are we talking about?’ Neela wanted to know.
Samir let out a genial chuckle, ‘Don’t look so worried Neela. Life is full of ups and downs. Take that day for example, when I came to the Bank. That was a crisis for me. And there you were cool headedly handling and sorting it out for me’.
‘Oh! That way! Neela smiled relieved.
Followed by the visit to Neela’s house a wedding date was set, for the following month.
Neela’s to be mother-in-law sent her clothes and jewels that took everyone’s breath away. ‘They are like the ones we see in movies and TV, na, Neela?. Susheela Tai fingered the silks. Neela was not comfortable taking all this but her protests drew resistance from everyone, even her neighbors. She did refuse a stylist and makeup artist though and her mother-in-law had to grudgingly give in.
The wedding was a simple and elegant affair. There were very few guests from either side, as agreed upon earlier by both families.
‘Neela don’t ever wear this saree again. It makes you look like a servant’, said Samir as they returned home from dinner at his friend’s house. Neela looked down at her saree. Yes, grey wasn’t her color and it was dull for a newlywed. She would care not to wear it when Samir was around.
‘Neela, have you eaten this before?’ smiled Mrs. Desai as a maid placed a bowl of cubed Dragon Fruit before them.
‘What is this? I haven’t even seen it.’ Neela glanced curiously at the speckled fruit.
‘I thought as much’ murmured Mrs. Desai even as she ate her fruit. Neela’s mother in law was very warm towards her but Neela sensed a patronization in her attitude and tone.
Mrs. Desai had constant social engagements and was rarely home. When she was, she was in her room. The house ran like clockwork thanks to the retainers who worked for them. No one believed in small talk, not even the servants. Samir traveled a lot, and that made Neela thankful that she had not left her job, even though everyone implored her to.
They had been married for only 6 months when Neela found out she was pregnant. Life had been strange, with everyone keeping to themselves in the house. This pregnancy should change things, hoped Neela.
Everyone was overjoyed, except Samir.
‘Why did you have to get pregnant so soon? We have barely been married!’? Samir’s reaction shocked her. ‘I wanted more time with you, he hastily added.
‘But you don’t spend much time with me anyway. You’re always traveling, or out.’
‘So whose child is this, bitch!?’ He snarled.
Neela sat down heavily, ‘what did you just say?’ she asked, looking at him.
‘I am sorry Neela, forgive me. This news has just shaken me. I am sorry.’
Neela did no know how to react at this.
Then a Pandemic happened. All travel and work stopped and everyone was confined to their homes. Neela was happy, she would get more time with Samir and his mother. This pregnancy would be a beautiful period, she thought to herself. Till the morning sickness started and lasted the whole day. Everything made her sick, tastes, smells even the thought of food.
‘I never had morning sickness when I was carrying Samir. My maid had it throughout her pregnancy though’, remarked Mrs. Desai.
‘Again!’ Samir screamed, as Neela ran to her bathroom retching.
It came to a stage where Neela was embarrassed about being sick, but she couldn’t hold it down either. She couldn’t go home as the city was in Lockdown. How she longed for someone to rub her back when she retched. to caress her forehead and give her ice chips to soothe her ragged throat, as she remembered doing to her sick mom.
She longed for Susheela Tai to be with her, but she bore it out alone. When her morning sickness refused to abate Samir decided to move to the guest room.
‘I can’t take this anymore. The retching sounds, the smells, and a disheveled you.’ he stated matter of fact.
Neela was too weak to protest. Mrs Desai arranged for an online consultation with the city’s top gynecologist. The doc told her it was completely ok to feel the way she was, some women had more morning sickness than others. The doctor prescribed medication and a special diet to help her feel better. Neela realized that these were the first kind words anyone had spoken to her in a long while and broke down.
The medicines helped her feel slightly better as the day wore on but her mornings were still bad. She slept and woke up at odd hours.
It was midnight when Neela woke up and realized she couldn’t go back to sleep. She was engrossed in reading a book when reaching out for her water bottle made her realize that it was empty. She tiptoed towards the kitchen and filled her bottle. On the way back she saw a light under Samir’s study door. She didn’t even remember when she last spoke to him, and deciding to surprise him she slowly opened the door.
To see a naked Samir sitting in front of his computer screen, which revealed a stark naked man doing things to himself. As she neared she saw Samir mirroring those actions. She stood rooted to the spot as Samir and the man both climaxed. The man on the other side saw Neela standing behind Samir first. He was shocked and instantly closed his screen.
Seeing his blank screen Sameer began punching buttons furiously. Before he whipped his head to see Neela standing behind, shocked.
‘You bitch!! a naked Samir lunged for Neela. ‘You nosy, ugly, poor bitch!” he screamed pulling her hair yanking back her head. The bottle fell from her hand, breaking and soaking the carpet. He shoved her hard onto the floor, where she fell a hair’s breadth away from a coffee table. That had neat white lines, a credit card, and a currency note rolled up into a tight tube.
He pulled her hair again and made her stand, ‘I’ll show you your place you whore! he roared. Samir wasn’t himself, he seemed like an animal.
He began pounding her head on the wall, and kicking her calves. ‘NEELA! I’ll beat you up till you resemble your name, all black and BLUE!’
She crumpled to the floor, and he began landing a rain of kicks on her head. She curled into a ball to protect herself and his kicking intensified. The more she resisted, the harder he hit her. Till suddenly she reached out and grasped his ankle. He was caught off balance and she pulled hard, watching him fall. He tried to, but couldn’t stand up.
With a supreme effort, she did and stood towering over the pathetic, naked man who was her husband.
‘Neela, is the endless blue of the skies, Samir. Always above you no matter where you go.’ she whispered as she limped to the phone on the table to dial the police.
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