Jagya was already a thing of the past. It took me a while to realize that I only loved Jagya like everyone else you are bound to accept. Just as those other relationships you never had a choice to begin with. Like that of maasa, bapusa and all others who were embedded into my life, the roots of my relationship with Jagya ran deep, however, only as a companion and never the husband he was meant to be. But, after all this time, I have little doubt that anyone else could have hurt or disappointed me in similar ways, for such betrayals were reserved for inclinations involving a man and woman alone. I was bound by marriage to see Jagya as that man and so, with time I gained the clarity to compartmentalize the hurt from that relationship; to acknowledge my life for what it was. The process still hadn't been easy and I had gone numb in someways. I didn't know if one could truly get over relationships that broke you into a thousand pieces, perhaps in the future I would, but in the meantime I learnt to tune out the pain, if nothing else.
With Jagya's leaving, I could not bring myself to move back with my parents. May be I had found another set of parents in Maasa or bapusa. Or that they saw a daughter in me; or the fact that I could not destroy the small consolation I had become to them, when they were practically being choked by shame and guilt over their son's grave misdoings - I could never tell.
In the years following my legal separation from Jagya, I drowned myself in household chores and teaching at the village school. Being one among the few educated village folks had its perks and occasionally, I was asked to aid with the panchayat office administration work to upkeep documents and pen down tenders or proposals in English. The initial solace I found in the monotony, soon lost its appeal and I craved for a bit of unpredictability to be thrown into my everyday din.
It was then - when the idea hadn't fully taken form in my head - he moved into Jaitsar as its new zilla collector.
With more doubt in my own decision - rather than the apprehension that came with such ambitious propositions - I expressed my interest to further my studies. Maasa and Bapusa were supportive, excited even that I still wanted to do something of my life. They were convinced that it was indicative enough I wouldn't go into a downward spiral and fade within the fringes of everyday life. However, my dreams of owing a post-graduate degree were threatened when Daadisa saw a prospect groom in Shiv.
With his frequent visits to the haveli - owing to our involvement in the panchayat board - Daadisa could not help but entertain the idea of our marriage with a senile enthusiasm that was perhaps acceptable for her age. Of course, I hadn't been present when the pitch had been made and for the life of me, I have never been able to understand why I had presumed his acquiescence to be the only natural progression to Daadisa's offer. At that time, I only saw the wedding as an impediment to the change I was looking for and thus, with justified contempt and acerbity in my tone, I marched into his office.
Even as I walked in, without a care for his occupations, I yelled at him. "Why Collector Saab? What led you to believe that you were doing me a favor by agreeing to marry me?"
He looked up from his laptop screen and sat back in his chair keeping his composure. When I didn't see any signs of regret on his face, I kept on with my accusations. "Well, if you are so insistent about plugging yourself into my life, then do me a favor and have Daadisa agree to my higher education. Certainly, I don't have to lecture you on the merits of having a wife who has done her post-graduation. It wouldn't suit for a zilla collector to marry someone with a mere bachelors degree."
I noticed a suppressed amusement in his eyes, as he crossed his legs and raised his hand to support his chin. For unknown reasons, his appraising posture irritated me more than his silence. "Having me tied down to another marriage isn't what I need now."
We held each others gaze and with the passing of a full minute, I felt the anger in me dissipate as a slow realization dawned from what I read in his eyes, making me feel sick in the stomach. A pool of bile burned my throat from the uncalled for mortification.
"You didn't really agree to the marriage proposal, did you?" My voice grew tremulous as it trailed and my embarrassment reached my eyes.
He pushed the glass of water on the table towards me and I reached for it at once. "No, I didn't," he spoke and I averted my gaze taking a sip. I wanted to be anywhere but there.
"Oh!" was all I could manage then.
"No offense," he jumped to clarify half expecting me to misjudge him again. "Its not personal. But, I can't agree more that you shouldn't be getting into another relationship just yet." He leaned forward and rested his arms on the table, "I think college is a good idea."
"Well, I'm almost certain you would be apologizing any minute now," he said and his words made me want to roll my eyes at that so-full-of-himself moment. But, I was too tongue tied to get a word out, let alone a full apology.
"Why don't I tell you how you could make up to me," he paused studying my reaction and when I didn't object, he continued with his proposition. "You let me make a few calls to IIMU. My friend is the director there for PGP studies in public policy. And, I think I can have a word with your Daadisa too. All that, if you don't have a problem that is."
Recommendation! Taking help from others came apropos to drowning myself in wet cement, but I couldn't deny the fact that I needed it at that moment. If life was about living by a few principles, then it was also about breaking some. Especially, if it could set my dreams of an higher education into motion - refusing to take help would only prove I was both stubborn and foolish. Anything to get myself out of a wedding, I reminded myself. If not collector saab, then Daadisa would surely summon another groom even out of thin air. I sighed feeling helpless and then regretted the next instant that it had been a bit louder than I liked when his eyes had remained with me the entire time.
I gave him a slow nod. "I'm sorry, collector saab," I said.
"Uh-uh!" he shook his head. "Shiv, not collector saab. Not Shivji. Just Shiv." He corrected with a smile.
It didn't take me long to see that he was extending a hand of friendship in return to my outburst. I didn't know how or when I had made an impression on him. If there been an initial impression at all, I was positive I had shredded it to pieces with my brashness and unladylike behavior.
Nearly clueless as I'm to-date, I mustered a small smile after seconds. "I'm sorry, Shiv" I said with a faint curiosity for what he could do about my future.