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Hello to one and all. After a hiatus, I'm back with part 73.
But before that- a warning: This part is shamelessly, SHAMELESSLY long. Now that I look back at it, I'm pretty much aghast myself about how in the world could I actually write this much, but I guess I wanted to put everything in one part itself.
This part may not again be a part that all of you would really like as such, but it was important for the story development ahead. I also tried to analyse certain issues from a legal background to make the story clearer for everyone, and encorporated various POV's. Keeping fingers crossed, presenting part 73 (in three subparts)
Archana looked at the wall clock. She was too late for office today, she thought, but then she could cover it up with over time later. It was important to go. After all, for how many days could she just keep missing office without notice?
And today there was a special reason- Mrs. Ruhia was going to explain Manav everything. She wished she could have herself explained matters to him, but he had rushed out so suddenly when he had come to know she didn't want to testify against Manjusha Vahini. She hadn't got a chance to explain her reasons at all. She had later called Manav on the garage landline to make an attempt at least to explain things, but had been told that he had gone out with someone. That must have been people from the NGO, she thought. She grew restless thinking about how everything would go and how Manav might react- whether he would be angry, broken down, crushed- or whether he would even believe them or not. Now she just wanted to be with him to make sure he was okay. Add to this the fact that she didn't want to be anywhere near Savita Aai. Savita was on the ninth cloud of anger, and Archana had no idea what Aai would do with her. It was better not to face her.
She kept the lunch that she had made in bowls and covered them with plates quickly. She walked out to the living room with her handbag. As she was assembling its contents, she heard a voice.
"Where are you going?"
Archana looked up. It was Aai.
"Office." She said shortly. "I will be back in some time."
"That same NGO which has brainwashed you against your husband?" asked Savita.
Archana felt bad. "They didn't do anything." She said in a small voice. "It was my own decision. I have made the lunch for you.."
"Oh really? A goat like you made such a big decision to go against me and everyone else?" taunted Savita. "It's a pity I can't throw you out of the house, who knows you might make a complaint again, but let me make it very clear that I'm not going to tolerate your silly behavior or let you stay here for long." She said, glaring angrily. "As long as you are here, live in this house on my terms, else you can just get lost."
Archana digested it silently.
"And now don't ever go back to that NGO again."
"I cannot do that." Said Archana quietly.
"What?" said Savita, shocked.
"I said I cannot leave my job." Said Archana. "You know better than me that we have financial problems in this house. We need extra income right now.."
"Manav is there to handle it.." said Savita. "don't teach me.."
"Manav cannot handle it." Said Archana exasperatedly. "Why do you all always rely blindly on Manav and take him for granted? I need to contribute and help him!"
"Listen.. enough of what you have said.." said Savita angrily. "Go inside quietly in your room. No office!"
"I cannot leave my job." Said Archana, still trying to reason with Savita. "It's not just about the money, but I like this job and that it helps me grow. I don't want to leave it. In any case, I do not have any guarantee, Manav doesn't want me here, you don't want me here, nobody wants me here, if I'm forced to return to my Aai-Baba tomorrow, then I should have something for my own security at least. Try and understand!"
"Finished?" asked Savita with fire in her eyes. "Now either get out and go home, or get in your bedroom and stay there, else I'll not be responsible for what ensues."
Archana did not say anything, but she did not move too. Her heart thumped loudly. She was feeling scared of Savita Aai, but she knew she could not give up her job too- it was all she had. At this point, Savita was wary of her- but overall the police complaint seemed to have had no effect on her- Aai was back to threatening her. She tried to be firm in her stand against Savita Aai.
She could see that Savita was waiting to see her response. Nervously Archana lifted her handbag. "I have done all the work of the house. Your lunch is kept there." She said quietly. "I should leave now." In response, Savita snatched her bag and threw it on the floor.
Archana looked hurt. "Aai, there were books in that bag." She said, trying to suppress her anger.
"Get in!" said Savita. "Else I'll.." she raised her hand, but then stopped. She cursed mentally. "Urgh!!!" she said. "You are not going out and that is it. If you go I won't let you enter the house again." She stormed into her bedroom.
Archana didn't wait a moment after that. She took her bag and walked out. She absolutely HAD to be with Manav.
Manav looked at the walls of the office he was sitting in. There were strange paintings on the walls- which appeared differently when seen from different angles. It was very weird, but seemed to hint at the personality of the person whose room he was in. He was a little scared, and after being summoned from the garage, he was almost sure that some Hitler was the occupant of the room. The idols of Ganesha on the table, the flowers on the window sill and the sober curtains did nothing to calm him down. He was sure he had walked straight into another trouble.
He was not alone, though. Pony, Archana's friend, was sitting in a chair next to him, and Vaishali had just arrived too. He had been stunned to see her, and had asked her if she knew why he had been summoned there by the NGO officials from the garage that morning. She had not said anything, but asked him to wait.
Finally, the fair, middle aged woman, for whom everyone had been waiting, came. Unlike what Manav had thought, she was not authoritative, scary or Hitler like. She had a motherly look, was slightly plump, had hair which was tied back and curled at her forehead, and wore a flowery sari. She smiled at him as he got up.
"Sit sit! Thankyou for coming here Manav. I'm Mrs. M. Ruhia." She said, smiling at him. "Would you have coffee or tea?" she asked.
Manav felt uncomfortable. "I would just like you to come to the point, if you please.." he said politely. He didn't want to waste time in formalities. "Actually I have to get back to work."
She smiled again. "Oh well, okay. We shall start off with some light talk first. For how long have you and Archana been married, Manav?"
Manav was surprised. He could see she was trying to make him comfortable first. He answered her questions as politely as he could, wondering all the while whether they had summoned him to discuss THIS. At that moment he did not realize that they were simply preparing him for the news which was sure to break him up.
"This is not true!" he exclaimed.
"Manav, I understand that it is difficult for you to believe us regarding all that we are telling you about your Aai, but you will have to understand. We can arrange for witnesses who can testify about your Aai's misbehavior of Archana in public places- especially at your chawl home."
"I don't want to hear your crap witnesses' tales!" He looked angrily at all of them. "I know all of you are involved in this! ALL! You must have brainwashed Archana too! That is why she isn't listening to me now! She was alright till yesterday night." he said.
Pony looked cross. "Manav, you need to accept facts about your Aai."
"Like the hell I will!" he shot back, banging his hand on the table. "I don't need YOU to tell me about MY Aai! I know my Aai very well! She could have never done the things you are claiming! She cannot treat anyone like this!"
"Accha so are we lying?"
"Who knows?" he said angrily. "Have the Karanjkars asked you to instigate me against my Aai?"
Mrs. Ruhia was calm. "Manav, what benefit do we have in your household problems? What will we get by instigating you against your mother, ha?" He had no answer to this question. "Okay, don't believe us, but we can arrange for witnesses- people from your own chawl, your neighbours. Will you trust their word?"
"But.. but.." he stammered. "This is monstrous! My Aai cannot do this, this is all false, you are mistaken!!"
"Manav it's you who is mistaken.. not us.. ask Vaishali.."
"It's true Jeeju." Said Vaishali in a small voice. Manav turned to her in shock. "On the day of the court hearing, Archu Tai came to meet you in the chawl, inspite of the fact that all evidence had gone against you. At that time, your Aai snatched her Mangalsutra, threw her out of the chawl and behaved very badly with her. And it was not the first time."
Manav gasped. The colour had left his face. "Vaishali.. I.. this cannot be true.." He looked at the women watching him keenly. "My Aai cannot.."
Vaishali gulped. She then proceeded to tell her how Savita had made it difficult for Archana to work in the chawl, and had troubled and threatened her in the open market as well. She told him how Archana used to live in constant fear of her mother in law, of how her parents had given dowry secretly to Savita Tai without telling Manav to appease her. She told the expletives and abusive words Savita used for Archana in front of everyone, to the extent that once she had retreated home crying, too upset and scared to face people when Savita character assassinated her in public. She told how Savita used to threaten Archana not to come back in the house or talk to any family member, and had mentally harassed her all this while, making things difficult for her at home and work. Manav listened to the whole story with an expression of shock on his face.
"This is not true." He said, horrified. "Please say this is not true Vaishali." He looked at her with begging eyes. Vaishali did not say anything. She simply lowered her eyes. "Oh Lord!" he muttered, and closed his eyes again, his head bent. "Oh Lord!" he said again. He could think of nothing else to say. For a long time he simply sat in the same way, trying to let this new reality sink in. He tried to convince himself that it was a bad dream, a nightmare- soon the alarm clock would go off and he would wake up to find it was a nightmare, he thought to himself.. but it did not happen.
The jailing was nothing in comparison to this new truth, he thought. Savita had harassed Archana so much, and he had never had any idea.. how come? How could he never know.. how had she born all of it silently all this while.. it seemed perplexing and painful. It was as if his heart had broken into a number of pieces, each beating and reacting differently- one feeling angry and hurt because of Savita, one cringing at the thought of Archana's plight, one feeling ashamed of the Karanjkars, one feeling incapable and worthless as a husband.. and so on.
Everyone sat quiet as mice for a few more minutes, giving Manav time to compose himself. Finally Mrs. Ruhia broke the silence. "Water, Manav?" he nodded gratefully and took the glass in his hands, taking slow, long sips from it, thinking all the while. Finally he kept the glass down and looked at Vaishali. "Why did none of you tell all this earlier?"
Vaishali bent her head. "Jeeju, actually, we were apprehensive thinking that if we complained to you, your Aai might make life more difficult for my Tai. As it is, we weren't sure whether you would go against your Aai to support Tai.. after all, she is your mother."
Manav digested it in silence. "If you had told me earlier, I would have done something about it.. I did support Archana in the past." he said in a cold voice. "Even Archana told me nothing. Now I understand why the Karanjkars hate me so much."
Tears crept up in Vaishali's eyes. She looked down, very subdued. "I'm sorry Jeeju, but at that time, there were so many problems between Tai and you, I did not know how to handle it, my parents simply wanted Tai to stay away from you and had no intention to settle the matter, I on the other hand was scared of your reaction if we told you unpleasant tales about your Aai, especially after all that you were going through. I didn't want all this to distance you even more from Tai."
Manav reflected. "I suppose your parents made the complaint ultimately..?"
"No they didn't." said Vaishali honestly. "They were tired and fed up of Savita Kaku, but they didn't want to involve police. They simply wanted Archu Tai to stay away from you.. Aai even used to say that she would not send Archu Tai with you even if you proved your innocence, simply because of your Aai..!"
Manav looked at her with surprise. So this was the reason! Earlier, he had always assumed that Sulochana Aai had said that she would not accept him back cos of Satish- cos she wanted him for Archana. At that moment, he had not known that his Aai had proved herself to be such a monster-mother-in-law that no mother would like to send her daughter to such a house, and Sulochana Aai was no exception. He felt guilty for having misunderstood her and having thought of her as a woman who just wanted a rich damaad and did not care about relationships.
"Yes, Manjusha Vahini made the complaint." Informed Vaishali. "Later they did not really say anything about it, or punish her for it in anyway, cos in their hearts they knew it was not a false complaint.. umm.. uh.."
"You can say it, it's okay." Said Manav. "I.." Vaishali fell silent. Everyone turned to see Archana standing at the door with Pony, looking very subdued.
Both Manav and Archana stared at each other for a minute, then Manav looked away. "Ma'am, may I please come in."
"Yes, you can Archana." Said Mrs. Ruhia with a smile."Please have a seat."
Archana came in quietly and sat on the empty seat beside Manav. Both did not say anything to each other. She peeked at him again and again from the corner of her eyes, trying to gauge his reaction. He was looking very thoughtful.
The group was absorbed in silence again. Pony looked at everyone, hoping someone would break it. "Some more water?" she asked, taking cue from Mrs. Ruhia. Nobody replied.
Finally Mrs. Ruhia spoke again. "Now that the situation is clearer, I suppose you can see things in better perspective, Manav." she said, clearing her throat.
"I called Archana in the morning today to ask her to meet me after I came to know of things via Pony. It was then that I came to know you intended to sue Manjusha in court for the jailing, and that Archana was going to support you." She said. "I asked her not to do it, cos it would be unfair and wrong. Defending Savita in court and laying her free of all blames means letting her go scot free after all she has done. It is likely to embolden her, just as your sympathy and support after the jailing emboldened her, that no matter whatever she does, son and daughter in law are both supporting her only and defending her in front of society. Plus, people would be discouraged to come up with complaints against such woman abusers, owing to Manjusha being sued for making a very true complaint. In such matters, one example paves way for more. As a social worker it is my duty to make sure this does not happen."
Manav listened in silence.
"Add to it the fact that if someone comes and give testimony in court that he/she has seen Savita harassing Archana and that Archana herself is lying, then the matter will become difficult for all of you. Slim chance, but still, why take a chance? The complaint was wrong in no way legally, so making a court case against it is useless."
The last line made Manav uneasy.
"Can I ask something?" Manav asked.
"I know my Aai has mistreated Archana." He admitted. "But do you think it is that serious, I mean.. as abuse, or harassment for that matter, I mean, criminal activity? She didn't really hurt Archana.."
"Manav, it is very much wrong and illegal." Said Mrs. Ruhia. "She was involved in dowry harassment, which is done verbally only most of the times, but is still severe abuse. The constant public humiliation is also abuse. Shouting in public that your wife is a prostitute and was caught in a brothel is terrible abuse for a meek middle class girl- she could have committed suicide."
Archana simply lowered her head as Manav stared at her in horror. Knowing Archana, yes, she could have done that. She had almost done it earlier subconsciously.
"I understand, but.." he struggled for words. "See, my Aai is illiterate and used to a very low class lifestyle which she has led all her life- it has made her.. umm.. harsh and rough.. I mean.. this behavior is a part of her.. I mean, she might not have even known that this was a criminal act or anything and yet got punished.. more than a criminal act, its marital strife.. it happens many times in the class I come from.."
"You bring in a good point here." Said Mrs. Ruhia, taking out her specs. "Manav, this is a very broad topic. Even within this, people have various perspectives when defining it. Now, the abuse Savita did, is a common occurrence in lower middle class life- I'm talking of a single large family living in a one room chawl house- when the husband leaves, the women bicker, fight, abuse each other, get physical, pull each others hair etc. That is also abuse and ILLEGAL in the eyes of law. But those people never make police complaints- they do not regard it as abuse at all, but rather consider it A WAY OF LIFE- you might have heard of it- it is called Sasurvas in Marathi. It is a behavior to which they have got accustomed due to their need for survival and to hold on to their marriage- the women there cannot afford to live in separate houses, and they don't want to lose their husbands or kids. Hence this behavior to which they have got adapted. Many of them do not consider such behavior as abuse at all, they are sort of used to it now. This is extreme realism for you. But the fact that it is now a way of life for them does not mean that this behavior is right. It is wrong, period. Abuse is abuse even if the other person takes no action or gulps it down or has no problem with it- it cannot be justified."
"I too would not be surprised if your Aai says she did not know her behavior was criminal, though she must be knowing it is wrong morally and ethically also, and also about laws against dowry- everyone knows them. But whatever be the case, it does not mean that her behavior can be excused or that Archana did not go through abuse. It may be a 'way of life' for Savita, but certainly not for Archana, who comes from a different strata of society. Similar for the Karanjkars, Manjusha and everyone else- including us- who know the laws. Unfortunately, many women still treat it as a way of life only and the cycle continues. And this is what we intend to break by creating awareness on BOTH sides- the abusers and the abused- that this is wrong and punishable. There was a time when dowry too was a way of life, a tradition that everyone quietly gulped down. It led to a horrible situation in the form of dowry deaths later and special laws had to be made later. So you see, this may be a common occurrence in some parts that people have accepted as a compromise for survival and need for marriage, but that doesn't make it right. Today also thousands of women in lower middle class society enter matrimony with their minds made up to follow what they have seen and followed and live in the same way- they do not realize at all that what they are facing is abuse. So they do not protest in front of their in laws at all or even try and make an effort to curb it. First mistake. Second mistake is that which Archana did."
Archana looked up in surprise.
"Her mistake was not to take some action regarding it, either by talking to you or her parents, or by consulting us. If she had done that, we would have guided her properly beforehand and such a complicated situation would not have arisen. I can understand her apprehensions though- all newly married women feel nervous and scared of approaching their husbands to tell them that their mothers are harassing them, not knowing how they would react. And your marriage especially has been one hell of a bumpy ride." Mrs. Ruhia looked at Manav. "So, a considerable responsibility also falls on the husband, to make his wife confide or keep a close watch on what is going on in his house. For example: You yourself know your Aai had asked for dowry once before also, is rough and gets into physical fights, yet did you make attempts to know how things were going on. Do you know Savita took all of Archana's jewellery yesterday when she came back in the house?"
Manav shook his head.
"It is not his fault." Archana spoke up. "It was my mistake. I should have told him if I had been troubled by anything. He has always given me liberty to speak and enquired of my problems."
"Still Archana, a guy cannot be unaware, the MIL might burn the bride and he will say- "Oh I was unaware!" mimicked Pony.
Mrs. Ruhia gave Pony a hard glare. "I know Manav has made attempts, even if they were not successful and that is commendable. This is what gave me the hope that you are a fair person and will give a patient ear to me. As I was saying earlier Manav, even if your Aai does not herself know that her behavior is criminal or wrong cos it is a way of life for her and nothing else, still, she knows it wrong on the ethical and moral level also na? She does know about dowry harassment law na? Everyone knows this much."
Manav nodded. "She knows it. I had a conversation over it with her once. Listen, I know she has been wrong, but still, something does not feel right, she is old and.."
"Manav, let's face it, I know that despite of everything you will still feel sorry for your mother and still have resentment against the Karanjkars. Everyone does. It is not easy to see one's own parents being beaten up in jail, no matter how wrong they've been. It takes Herculean strength to accept despite of the pity and pain we harbor for them, that no, they were wrong, and that they got punished according to the law- you cannot cry foul about it or make court cases to justify their behavior."
"According to the law?" said Manav sarcastically.
"And what do you have to say about the fact that I and my Baba were thrown into jail for no reason, and I was hit too?" questioned Manav. "If you have done so much research about me, Archana and our marriage, then you must be knowing that I and Baba have not been bad to her."
Vaishali butted in. "I support Manav Jeeju here." She said. "Manav Jeeju has gone beyond being a responsible and caring husband to my Tai. That is the reason my Tai went back to him. And Tai respects Damodar Kaka a lot, he has always treated her like a daughter." Archana nodded her head to this. "Manav didn't deserve the jailing. That is the reason I agreed to make the counter complaint against Manjusha Vahini. It is not fair for Manav to be punished for something others did."
Mrs. Ruhia nodded. "I understand that Manav. Ethically, you did not deserve the jailing and the beating. But there is such a thing called a PROTOCOL- and protocol states that when a complaint for dowry harassment is made, action is taken mainly against the mother in law, sister in law and husband. This is because when this law was made, dowry deaths were common. Women were burned in kitchen on the pretext of making food, tea etc and thus no evidence was left. This was done when a daughter in law was unable to bring any more dowry into the house, so that the son could be free to marry again. The cases followed a pattern- usually the mother in law, sister in law and husband were involved. So till today, the protocol states that action is taken primarily against the three. Fortunately, your sister is a child, so she was let off, but you, even though completely not at fault, were punished. But since this is protocol, you cannot take legal action against it. I repeat, legally the complaint stands, and is valid."
"Looking impartially Manav, yes, this law has many loopholes. It gives unlimited power to the girl's side, and requires action to be taken as soon as the complaint is made without waiting to look for verification even- but all this was done to prevent a death/suicide as soon as they get the complaint of violence or harassment, the logic here is that physical wounds due to a beating or jailing taken as soon as the complaint is made, will heal, but a death cannot be reversed. These measures have saved lakhs of women over the years. In many other women, it has created fear that they must not harass their DIL's since they could be jailed for that. It is unfortunate that sometimes innocent people like you get punished for that, but we can do nothing about it, since it is legal protocol and there are important reasons behind setting this protocol. In reality, controversies do happen, and this law is one of the most controversial laws cos it can be grossly misused. Some people even demand that it should be withdrawn. But on the flip side, this same law also SAVES many women and creates fear in the wrong doers to not do such acts. In your case, all I can say is that your Aai's karmas landed heavily on you. You got punished because of her. She set out to malign someone else's daughter and give her a hard time by insulting her in public, but karma bounced off and landed on her own children."
Manav had no answer to all this. "So the bottom line is that my Aai is wrong and there is no justification for this fact."
"There is no justification for this fact." Agreed Mrs. Ruhia.
"Even I have been harassed then," he said in a small and complaining voice. "Since 4 months, Archana's parents have been harassing me.. questioning my character.. they deserve punishment too.."
Mrs. Ruhia did not know what he was speaking about. She appeared confused, while Pony, who had understood what he was speaking about, butted in. "Manav, did the Karanjkars ever go about humiliating you or maligning you in public? Did they go about spreading bad words about your character in public, like your Aai did to Archana? NO!!! When problems crept up between them and you owing to some proofs, they simply took their daughter away from your house, with the intention of keeping their daughter safe. In that too, they didn't force Archana to come with them- she came willingly. They never made unnecessary or difficult demands from you. They never stopped Archana or prohibited her from meeting you or anything like that, they only wished that she should be away from you- staying away was her own decision. Divorce too was her own decision, not something she had been forced to do against her will. You were the one who kept running to prove your innocence and got yourself in trouble in the process. What they have done is not harassment at all. At the most I can only say it was unfair of them to not give you a proper chance to prove your innocence, but that is an overprotective measure to keep their daughter safe from a presumed conman. This is not harassment."
Mrs. Ruhia, who had simply been observing, spoke in a calm voice. "I don't know the whole story here, but on the basis of what Pony has said, I back up Pony when she says this is not a case of harassment." She cleared her throat. "All the same Manav, I must confess that I sympathise deeply with you, not just you, but with the Deshmukhs as a whole- all of you. The police complaint was not the right way to go about things- the complaint shouldn't have been made."
Manav was shocked. "A few minutes back, you were telling me that Aai's behavior was wrong and illegal, and so there is no point in trying to seek legal refuge. You also told me about the law in detail and why it was made, its strong points, etc. And now you are YOURSELF saying the complaint should not have been made. This is.."
"I guess I need to explain myself here." Said Mrs. Ruhia, adjusting her specs. "Manav, yes, what your Aai did was wrong and is a punishable offence. The law is also not wrong in punishing guilty people- however, police complaints are never made at the flick of a finger in cases of abuse, and this I know from years of experience of being associated with such cases in one form or the other. Police complaints are usually made in cases of severe physical abuse only, not in a case like Archana's, where the abuse was at a verbal level basically, and especially when she intended to stay in the marriage and not break it. This is because, dealing with this law has taught us that it is a useful weapon, but very dangerous too- it is a two sided sword. It has the power to break marriages FOREVER. Tell me, which family will accept a DIL back after a jailing and a beating? How can things ever be alright again?"
Manav nodded, thinking deeply. "You are right," he said. "Things can never be the same again." Archana looked at him with fear in her eyes. Manav looked up for a fleeting moment, saw the fear in her eyes and looked away. Archana looked down, worried.
"Recognising the fact that we in Indian society have the notion of 'marriage for life' and a marriage means a lot to a girl here, a complaint is advised by us basically in cases of physical abuse, when there is no coming back in the marriage. This does not mean that a person who commits verbal abuse or harasses mentally does not deserve prison or that it is any less severe than physical abuse, what I mean to say is that in case of verbal abuse, the person gets away with a warning cos the married life of the girl has to be considered- at the end of the day, we are social workers, after all- we understand such social aspects and take them into account also. Unless there is no physical abuse involved, we usually only give a strict warning in such cases and impart people to keep guard, since till THIS point, things can be reverted to normalcy in marriage and life after a few hiccups, and the initial scars can be washed away." Said Mrs. Ruhia. "If suppose, this particular complaint had not been made- then there were many other ways to resolve the issue- Archana intended to handle Savita on her own, right? She could have done that with a bit of help from you, and peace could have been restored. That would have been the ideal way to go about things- by not involving a third party in the matter at all. Or we could have given a VERBAL warning to Savita. It would also have settled things more amicably. That is why I say Manav, I sympathise with you, all of you. Things could have been handled much better- the jail beating and the sourness in relationships could have been avoided. The complaint was most valid, but there were other ways also that could have been taken keeping in mind the fact that Archana wants to be in this marriage. Any sane person would realize that this complaint would break the marriage and hence must not be made. A police complaint is the last step in a case of abuse, not the first. But now that it HAS been made, I cannot push aside the fact that yes, it is legally valid. And I cannot let Archana testify in a court of law that Savita was innocent when she is not. Exonerating Savita sets an example of exonerating ALL the other women who do such things everyday in this same lower middle class chawl life you spoke about- they would also get emboldened thinking they have also done nothing wrong. It would be wrong, illegal, and immoral and can create trouble for both of you later. It would also be against my ethical protocol. I will unfortunately have to report you then."
Manav wasn't listening. Her last few words were still ringing in his ears- "Any sane person would realize that this complaint would break the marriage and hence must not be made.."
He looked up at Vaishali suddenly. "Vaishu, did your parents even know about the complaint?"
Vaishali shook her head. "No one knew anything. Manjusha Vahini made the complaint without consulting anyone. She didn't even tell anyone. It was when Vedant came to our house to ask Tai for help that we came to know everything."
That explained it! ' thought Manav, a sudden spurt of anger rushing through him. The picture was crystal clear to him now.
Manjusha's villainy was now out in the open. She had really played a shrewd, clever game by making this complaint, knowing that she would go scot free by cloaking her intentions in the name of moral duty. Her intention had in no way been to help Archana or save her from harassment, rather she had taken advantage of Savita's misbehavior that she had observed or come to know about, and at the right time, used it in the most sinister way possible, not just to take out her and her brother's spite on Manav's family, but also to break Archana Manav apart. It had been a sure shot method to achieve what she wanted.
His blood boiled within himself as he thought of Manjusha giggling happily. Yes, Aai had been wrong, but as the social worker had herself said, something as bad as this could have been prevented. The problem could have been settled much more easily. Savita Aai was wrong in her behavior, no doubt in that, but more than that, she had fallen prey to the wolf called Manjusha, who unlike Ajit, did not have the strength to attack from the front, but had taken aim by hiding herself behind others and misusing the law for personal gains. The complaint had simply been a ploy to hurt the family and crumble it into pieces. Scenes of their jailing flashed in front of his eyes.
He came out of his thoughts. The glass of water that he had held so tightly in anger had broken in his hand and glass pieces were pricking him, as blood oozed out.
Archana immediately took a handkerchief out and started tending to him. "Get a first aid box." Pony called someone.
"I hope you are okay." Said Mrs. Ruhia uncomfortably.
Archana nodded as she tended to him. "It shall heal.."
"Some wounds never heal." Said Manav gruffly. Archana's face fell.
Mrs. Ruhia understood. She cleared her throat. "Manav, I think I have explained everything that I wanted to. I do not know you, and I came to know about Archana also just yesterday, I'm an impartial third party here- and as such I hope my words will have some consideration. I called you here to talk to you bcos of three reasons- first, to tell you about your Aai, second, to tell you about Archana, so that you don't misunderstand her, and thirdly, to reprimand you against the wrong legal steps you were about to take, and guide you about what you can do legally and rightfully."
"Can anything be done now at all?" said Manav, laughing sarcastically. "The fire has ruined everything. There is nothing left. My family, our name, our future, our marriage.."
"Yes, things CAN be done." Said Mrs. Ruhia coolly. "You can STILL sue Manjusha in court in the case of irrepairable damage to name and reputation- by making individual complaints in the name of YOU and YOUR FATHER ONLY. Archana can honestly testify in court that both of you are completely innocent and Manjusha shall have to suffer the repercussions of making a careless complaint. No one can speak against you in court since you have never misbehaved with Archana in public."
"Yes." Said Archana immediately. "I have no problems in supporting you, in fact, I had said last night also that I was ready to support and would have done it, if not for the danger that it could backfire on us.."
"It's not just that." Said Manav. "This matter extends to every one of us now. The court compensation is not going to erase everything. Relations have been spoilt now. Our image has been spoilt now. Everything seems over."
He stopped. Archana could feel her eyes moistening.
"Manav," she said softly. "Please don't say this. I.."
"You had no intention to hurt any of us in anyway, I know that." Said Manav quietly. "But there has been too much destruction on both ends and things can never be the same again. Things could have been settled more amicably, and now it's too late. Tell me now, how will my family accept you if you say that you will testify for me and Baba but not for my Aai? Do you think my Aai will digest this silently?"
Mrs. Ruhia was listening quietly to their conversation. "I know this is your personal matter and I am no one to say anything here, but being an elder and someone experienced in these matters, can I just offer a word of advice?"
Manav nodded. "Please."
She smiled thoughtfully. "When I analyse your situation Manav, Archana- you know what is the first thought that comes to my mind- that BOTH of you did understandable mistakes, but at the end of the day BOTH of you are victims." She paused. "In the abuse matter, both were a little wrong- Archana could have taken some measures instead of simply staying away from Savita Aai, and Manav you could have been a little more vigilant knowing your Aai's nature, but that is understandable. Point is, both of you suffered- Archana suffered, and even Manav you suffered cos you were being cheated by your Aai all this while. Your Aai's behavior distanced you from the Karanjkars, (understandable, cos no parents would like such a son in law who has such a nasty mother) and scared Archana into walking out of your relationship. So both of you are victims. And even in the complaint- BOTH of you are victims. Manav, you had to go through the jailing for no mistake of yours, and Archana's suffering already seems to have started, with the Deshmukh family wanting to break relations forever now. She did not make a police complaint due to her concern and loyalty towards all of you, she actually intended to come back to your house, deal with your mother in other ways, and work on the marriage, but this complaint has messed everything for her, since now your family members do not want her back. She is ALSO a victim."
Manav and Archana both sat silently.
"I have seen many such cases in my career, and have seen that they have ended disappointingly, though I understand it." Said Mrs. Ruhia, taking out her specs. "Inevitably, husband wife separate cos sometimes both are difficult to forget- the abuse as well as the jailing, somewhere the resentment is bound to be there- and it is difficult to ignore the family feuds that occur bcos of the complaint. The relationship gets scarred. But it is NOT the same in your case, because you had no roles to play in the complaint as well as in the abuse. Your intentions towards each other were very much genuine. When I look at both of you, I see two victims, whom I do not want to see separating simply cos of mistakes of other people- namely Savita and Manjusha- (Savita for her actions, and Manjusha for spiraling it till this level which could have been avoided). If that happens, it would be very unfortunate, since both of you had good intentions towards each other, and no one would like you to suffer in this mess."
"I know that this complaint has clouded your marital life. But will separation help in easing it? It won't. It will only be a sad situation where you will again be victims if you separate, suffering cos of mistakes of others. Man makes his destiny himself. It is your choice now, whether you want to be victims and suffer, or fight for your happiness and your marriage."
"I know the complaint has spoiled your name in society." She agreed. "But separation is only going to enhance the belief that there were problems in your house- it will fuel the rumours, not shut them. The best way to prove the complaint false is not by appealing to a court of law, but rather by fighting it together, by being together, by showing society that it did not affect the marriage or ruin it- that if both of you have got back even after such a complaint and live together under one roof, it means there was a different dimension to the complaint- that it must be false. The way to fight society is NOT by going into hiding- but rather by showing them the strength of your relationship. That will be enough to shut their mouths."
"I don't know.." said Manav. "I need to think all this over.. but rest assured I will handle my Aai now, you won't get any more complaints about her."
He got up suddenly. Everyone seemed alarmed. Archana stood up too, to stand near him, looking at him with confusion.
"I think I should leave now." he said. "Thankyou for everything."
He walked out suddenly, and Archana watched him walking away. "Ma'am, I.."
"Go go!" said Pony. "Don't worry, I'll tell the boss you're not coming for work today, in fact, take a leave for a week if needed."
She did not wait to be told twice. Mumbling a quick thankyou to Mrs. Ruhia, she rushed out of the door, with Vaishali following her.
He was sitting by himself in a quiet corner on the steps at the back of the office. Hesitantly she walked over to him, wondering if he would say anything, or whether he simply wanted to sit in peace. But whatever the case was, she felt she should be with him at that time. She knew him enough by now to see that he was truly disappointed, and she did not want him to burden himself by keeping his feelings to himself. Quietly she went and sat next to him.
Both of them did not say anything for a few minutes. Finally Manav spoke first. "Why did you not tell me all this earlier Archana? You have always been so rational in relationships, why not this time?"
She bit her lip, her eyes moistening. "Manav, there were so many complications in the way our marriage was going- misunderstandings, separation and so on.. I was hanging on to little shreds of hope that things will become alright. At that time, I did not want to bring up this issue- not knowing how you would react to hear things against your Aai- it could have amplified the tension between us. In those days I didn't even know if I could trust you. Many times I felt Savita Aai's behavior was a MOTHER'S ANGER since I had walked out on you, and the matter would settle on its own when our problems get sorted and I return back to the chawl- that there was no point in talking to you about Aai for that- she could have thought I'm instigating you- just as she thinks now. Even Shravani told me this only- that don't bring it up now. I felt- let one problem get over then I'll talk about the second one. If the ROOT problem gets sorted out then maybe we won't even have to deal with the second one. In the meanwhile I tried to stay away from your Aai to avoid the issue. But the problem never got over. When I came to meet you at the chawl after the court hearing for the burnt garage, your Aai threw me out; we had a fight after that at my home- remember? (Part 52) At that time, I had, in angry sarcasm, MENTIONED about your Aai's behavior, but you had flared up saying 'Don't bring my Aai into all this' instead of pondering over what I'd said. The incident itself prohibited me from speaking about your Aai anymore in the future- it was quite evident that like any normal son, you wouldn't like to hear bad things about your mother. STILL, on the day of our divorce hearing, I had wanted to come back to you and talk to you about your Aai and if required, to live separately from the family- but AGAIN it was your talks with Arvind that held me back. That day, you YOURSELF said that you do not appreciate women forcing their husbands to separate due to strife or maladjustment in the family- that you cannot hear against your people or live without them."
Manav held his head in his hands. Even fate did not favour them.
"These two incidents made me apprehensive to approach you on the topic again Manav. After I came back to your home, my intention was to deal with Aai myself so that everything could be alright for everyone- but the very next day it all happened.. I had never even thought of making a complaint against you or Aai.."
"How could you even think of coming back to me?" he asked, amazed. "I remember long back when Satish and his family accused you of being a call girl, you said you don't want to go to him now or sort matters with him. Then how could you come back to me, considering Aai has done so much?"
"I didn't come back for Aai. I came back for YOU." She said in a small but firm voice. "My need to be with you was way more. And anyway, I hadn't come back to suffer. Not this time."
She looked determined as she spoke this. Manav couldn't understand what to make of it.
She fell silent again. Finally after some time she spoke. "Are you angry with me?"
Manav shook his head. "I was angry earlier, but now I can see that your apprehensions are understandable. Even today morning, I shouted at Pony and Mrs. Ruhia when they started speaking against Aai- so you are right, it is difficult for me to hear things against my Aai, just like any other person, and normal of you to feel apprehensive in talking to me, especially with all the misunderstandings and complications thrown in. I'm just grossly disappointed by the way things have turned out. And of course, disappointed thinking of what you have had to go through. I told you once Archana, a husband gets a bad name if his wife suffers. Did you think for even one second how I would feel when I came to know what all you have gone through? Today, I did flare up initially but later I listened to everything Mrs. Ruhia said. I would have done something if you had told me earlier. All this could have been avoided."
She did not say anything.
"I really wonder today what kind of marriage we have Archana, which never gives any happiness to either of us. Ever since we have got married, both of us have only been unhappy. Not only the world, but even destiny doesn't seem to be favouring us."
She could not disagree. "Things have not turned out right, I know," she said. "Nor have they gone as we expected."
"You called it a cursed marriage once, do you remember?" asked Manav. "Today I feel like calling it that- cursed marriage- for both of us."
Archana was shocked. She looked at him with horror. "Manav, please don't say like that!" she said. "Till today I regret having said that to you. We have seen so many good moments together too.. and come to know about each other so well.. it has been a rocky journey, but an enriching one too.. situations have gone wrong, but both of us have always wanted the best for each other.."
"You don't understand Archana." Said Manav, shaking his head. "I and you, both of us, come with a baggage. You come with a baggage called Ajit and Manjusha, who will never let you- and consequently me, live in peace. And I come with a baggage called my Aai- who had made life hell for you- and consequently me. It would be too much to assume that after all what happened she will ever accept you back. I know what she did was wrong, terribly wrong, and I'm ashamed of it all, but still, I can't help thinking that all this could have been settled so much more amicably- as Mrs. Ruhia said, then why did only my Aai have to go through all this, and me and Baba too.." he said unhappily. "If I had come to know earlier in some other way, I would have myself put a stop to it by scolding Aai and everyone would have sided with you... but now Aai's wounds will gain more sympathy in the eyes of everyone than the abuse she inflicted on you. I feel pathetic when I think of what you had to face and I'm angry with her for that, but I'm sorry, even I can't help feeling bad when I think of the jailing, she's my mother after all."
"I understand." Said Archana. "I would have never made a complaint if I had my way. I also feel bad about her."
"That is because you feel bad for everybody." He said. "And that is something I can never understand about you." He looked at her. "I'm sorry for all my Aai did with you. I know sorry is not enough, but still.." he trailed off. "I know now why your parents hate me and my family so much."
Archana was shocked. "Please don't apologise for this Manav, you have no fault in all this.. your apology is making me feel way too terrible." She said in an affected voice.
He looked away again. "I know you are not the culprit here Archana, but I really don't see how things can settle from here onwards." He said quietly. "There is too much of bad blood between the two families. I don't expect my family members to ever accept you back, especially now that you have openly showed that you are against Aai. I know you are not guilty- in fact you tried to shield my Aai from me all this while, and I can atleast TRY to think with an open mind, but I doubt everyone else will be able to forget everything. Then again, you came back to this marriage for no solid reason except emotional ones owing to my health issues, which again makes me doubt how long it is going to last. The other side, your parents will never accept me or my family again, and I don't know whether I will be able to get over my resentment for them."
Archana looked confused. "Resentment?"
"Yes." He said quietly. "Your parents NEVER give me a chance Archana. They did not give me a chance when proofs were shown against me, it was you who gave me a chance. They simply cut off from me and declared me wrong. And here again, in this matter they did not give me a chance to set things right in some other way which could have been more peaceful. First they did not do anything, and later when Manjusha spiraled the matter to this level, they supported her saying she is right, instead of reprimanding her. I know my Aai was wrong and they have suffered bcos of it too, your Aai even got a heart attack bcos of it, but I repeat- all this could have been avoided. You were apprehensive cos you were scared that complaining to me could spoil our relationship, Vaishali being apprehensive is also understandable, but your parents hate me, right? Why did THEY not tell me? They never cared of relations with me or our marriage. If they had told me earlier, even in anger, like you did once, then maybe I would have controlled my Aai earlier and even you would not have to suffer so much. Your parents never give me a chance and that creates problems, and then later they cry about your cursed fate. Legally what they did may not be harassment and I may not be in a position to make any sort of complaint against them, but that doesn't mean that it makes them right. They are wrong, period. Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean that I didn't feel bad when they gave me a pre-decided character certificate and never gave a chance to clear my name, and just bcos I'm strong doesn't mean I didn't get hurt when they hit me in prison. I repeat Archana, it was YOU who gave me chances both times, not them."
Archana hung her head. Manav looked back to see that Vaishali had been listening to all this. She scuttled away as she saw that he had seen her.
"That does not mean I blame them for it totally," he added. "My Aai still remains the bigger culprit." Not to forget Manjusha, he thought angrily. Each time he thought of her, he had the urge to throw something. He badly wanted a chance to settle scores with her.
"Manav," Archana said tearfully. "I know things have gone very wrong, but together we can still correct things.."
"You don't understand Archana." He said with a sigh. "The water has flown over the bridge now. Things cannot be brought to where they were before. How will our families ever accept each other? Forget each other, how will they accept us? And tell me, can you ever accept my Aai without any resentment over everything- she has said so much to you and sent your Aai to the hospital with all that threatening after all! Tell me- is it possible for you to live in the same house as her and face her everyday? I ask this question, because I honestly know that somewhere I will always have resentment with the Karanjkars because of all this, and so I know it is very natural for you to feel the same, especially when my Aai has wronged you so much intentionally!"
"I don't know about Savita Aai." She admitted slowly. "But as a general rule.. I have always lived my life keeping in mind only one ideology. 'Nothing in life is perfect'. No person is perfect. No couple is perfect. No relationship is perfect. But if you really want to make your relationship work, focus on the good points of the other person in it, and it will work."
He looked up at her in surprise.
"If you focus on the sweetness in a relationship rather than thinking of what went wrong in it, if you have faith in it, and if you try to work on it, it will definitely work. The reason most of us are so unhappy in life is that we always focus on that which we do not have, or what we lack, or what went wrong. If we focus on the positives in life, admire people for their good points than hate them for their faults, and focus on the positives of a relationship- then life would be so much happier and uncomplicated. At the end of the day Aai is your mother and a part of your identity. To be with you, I have to be with her also, accept her as well. That is enough reason for me to try and work on things."
She looked at him. He looked lost. Somehow, her words brought back the image of the Archana he had fallen in love with by watching her behavior for two years- the Archana whom he had always considered an angel of some sort- who had a way of making her place in everyone's heart, who never spoke anything bad about anyone. It was this innocence, this optimism, this large heartedness, this outlook about relationships he had fallen in love with. His fairy princess Archana!
"Manav.." she shook him lightly.
He came out of his thoughts. "Who told you all this rubbish?" he asked a little angrily. "In which stupid philosophical book did you read this?"
She looked hurt. "I didn't read it anywhere." She said in a small voice. "I just followed it all my life. People say they love me for this reason and.."
"And this is also the reason they are able to manipulate you and cheat you and take advantage of you," he said sternly, "since you only keep tolerating them by giving them chances for their 'good points'. Fact is Archana- you look at the world through rose coloured glasses. Such things are nice to be read in novels and books, they do not happen in real life. You may be able to do all this and accept everyone, but it doesn't mean everyone else will be able to follow this and accept you back. My Aai in particular!"
"I was not referring to Aai in particular, I was referring to the rest of the people in the house." She said. "I only know one thing that this philosophy gave me strength to come back to you even when you had no proof to show me. I know you consider it a 'wrong reason', but once I knew I wanted to be with you, I gave greater emphasis to your good qualities- trusted on them that they would make our relationship prosper and came back. Even you told me once- that when we are in love, we automatically give more importance to the good points in a person than hate them for their faults.. I'm just saying we should consider the reverse too- look at the good points in others, that way you will have less enemies and more friends."
"Yes, I said we do that." He said hurriedly in an attempt to close the matter. "But unlike you I did not say that it helps save the relationship. I just said it is a tendency in love, not that it gives results every time. Come now, let's go."
She kept sitting still, looking at him in a steadfast gaze. "What happened now?"
She did not say anything for some time. Finally, she looked down and then back at him, and her eyes had an uncertain softness in it. "Please don't leave me Manav." She said in an emotionally drained voice. "It has taken all my strength to make this big decision of going against my parents and my family and coming back to this marriage. I came back with the firm intention of making my marriage work. I know you consider the reasons of my coming back as wrong and emotional, but the simple fact is that I came back cos of my love and concern for you. That concern cannot be wrong- you know that. I know you think my reasons are wrong and unjustified cos they don't guarantee any future to this relationship, they look more emotional than ethical or logical- but for me, these emotions are my strength- I know what extent I can go for my loved ones. I know you are very depressed right now, but please don't leave me. Manjusha Vahini made this complaint, I didn't, and I would never have made it if I had my way. Please Manav, don't punish me for her acts. I assure, I will set everything right for you."
He did not know what to say to her, as he stared at her bent head, and her scared, unhappy face. Caught between the devil and the deep sea- he thought. Why had things turned out this way that he was feeling uncomfortable in accepting her back as well as telling her to go!- he thought. Despite the fact that he had said that her reasons for coming back were 'wrong' (since they did not ensure a secure future for their marriage), yet in his heart, he could not refute the fact that she had selflessly come back FOR HIM only. She was an emotionally volatile person, yes, a 'pendulum' as he had called her once in angry sarcasm, but she CARED for him, and her decision to come back (even if short lived) had been a reflection of this fact. Yes, she had made understandable mistakes- of being scared of his Aai's behavior, of coming back late to this marriage, but then it was also true that she had come back ON HER OWN, when HE had been unable to provide proofs to exonerate himself, something he should have ideally done since the onus of saving the marriage basically lay on him, not on her who had hardly known him at the time of marriage. Earlier he had wanted her to go back to her parents, thinking that their marriage had no future thanks to her reasons of coming back, but now the situation was different. She was slowly and slowly trying to prove her commitment towards him. She had already gone against her parents once, and if Manjusha and Vinod came to know that she had agreed to testify against them, they might never accept her back too. In the end of all this- she might as well be left with no mayka and no sasural! And then.. what would she do then?
It was clear that her heart was in the marriage- for whatever reasons, she wanted it. If he broke this relationship cos of this complaint, he would be giving her 50 times the punishment she deserved for her very much human mistakes- that too after she had already suffered bcos of his Aai. No way did she deserve something like this. Yes, he had suffered in this marriage too- but it was not because of her. His family had suffered- but not bcos of her- it was Manjusha who had made all this so big. It was she who deserved punishment, Archana should not be ostracized, that too when she was actually supporting the Deshmukhs. But how the hell could Archana live in his house? No one would accept her, Baba, maybe, but no one else.
He wanted to be fair to everyone- to his family who had been wronged, to Archana who had been wronged too, to his Aai who was wrong but had suffered more than she should ideally have-- but he didn't want to play God, he was human too at the end of the day. And now- he couldn't see any way in which things could be corrected- not only regarding the family matters but also the future of their own marriage seemed bleak to him. He wished he could tell her that she was too optimistic about things, and he wished he could share in her optimism, but somehow, after having gone through so many misfortunes and witnessing so many unhappy moments in the way the relationships had evolved, he had little hope for the future. He had little hope the kids could accept her. He had little hope that Aai would be civil to her. He had absolutely no hope that Sachin would accept her when he came to know everything. And most of all, he had no hopes that the Karanjkars would ever accept him or his family again.
It was impossible for both of them to cut away totally from their families and work only on their own relationship- their families were a part of their identity. But then how would their marriage work under present circumstances?
He didn't know. He looked at her head again, still bent, and touched her hand lightly to steady her. In return, she clutched it tightly. He knew it made her feel better, always, ever since the first time he had held her like that while comforting her in the car when they were returning home after marriage. He remembered the moment, and sighed.
Everything seemed to be at a dead end in their story.
They sat there quietly in the same manner for some time. Then Manav slowly straightened himself up and Archana got up too, looking weirdly at him. "We should leave now." he said quietly. He looked up to see that Archana was staring at him with a quizzical, faraway look. "What happened to you?" he asked, shaking her arm.
She came out of her thoughts. "Nothing." She said slowly. "You are a very nice person Manav.. you always try to understand everyone.. even if we are not together tomorrow, even if you decide to end the relationship here owing to circumstances, I will still be proud that you understood my position in the whole complaint issue and did not hate me for it.."
He was silent for a while. "Let's go." He said quietly.
They got up and walked out of the office complex. Vaishali who had been waiting nearby, joined them. "I'm feeling really bad for Jeeju, and for myself as well. I'm just dreading Tarun's reaction, he will surely blow a fuse over this whole fiasco, as it is he wasn't close to our family.. now he is going to hate us a lot."
She looked at Archana, who seemed very silent and was only looking down thoughtfully at her own steps. "Tai what happened to you?" she shook her arm.
"Something has happened.." persisted Vaishali. "Tell me what it is."
"Vaishu, I am having second thoughts about the accusation that your Jeeju ever cheated me." Said Archana in a small voice.
"WHAT!!!" said Vaishali, almost jumping out of her skin. "But till yesterday you were saying.."
"Till yesterday." Said Archana. "A lot has happened between yesterday and today. And it has made me feel uneasy. I won't be able to explain it Vaishu, I just KNOW that he has not done it, proofs are against him, and even his Aai said he is the culprit.. but.. somehow I.. I just feel he cannot do it. He is really not the sort.. I may be wrong again here.. but I really don't think he could have done it.."
And with this Archana walked ahead, leaving behind an open mouthed Vaishali. Her head whirled a little. Nowadays her Tai was throwing a bouncer every alternate day. One day she refused to divorce, one day she went back to her Jeeju, one day she decided to go against her family, one day she decided to speak up against Savita Aai's atrocities and now this! But what could have been the reason for such a sudden change in feeling? Vaishali knew her sister well enough that she made decisions and arrived at conclusions only after thorough introspection. If she had herself said that she was having a feeling that she had been wrong all along, then there HAD to be SOME VERY strong reason. What could that reason be? Vaishali stood for there in that state, with her mouth open, for a while, wondering how her Tai's ideas about Manav had suddenly started changing.
The sudden honking of a car brought her back to earth. Realizing that the people around were glaring and giggling at her, Vaishali closed her mouth and hurried forward, watching her Jeeju and Tai walk back home, together.
That was subpart 1. Presenting the other two subparts shortly.
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The train journey back home seemed the longest ever for both of them. Manav was lost in his thoughts- still trying to figure out the complicated mess that his life had become. There didn't seem to be any perfect solution in the offing. And giving up at this juncture meant falling prey to Manjusha's plan and declaring it a success. He certainly did not want that loser to giggle at Archana and him- he could do anything to wipe the smile off her face.
He sighed and looked at Archana. She looked a little lost. She had been unusually silent in the whole journey and had not talked at all.
"Our station is here." He said. She did not reply or meet his gaze but quietly got up and followed him out.
As they walked back silently, Archana asked Manav if he would be coming home first before going back to the garage.
"No, I'll go to the garage straightaway." He replied. He needed to clear his mind and think in peace about whom to support and how to reprimand his Aai for her behavior, while also keeping her current condition at the back of his mind.
Archana hesitated. She knew going back home without him would be foolish- she had disobeyed Aai in the morning and she was sure Aai would make another scene in the chawl when she went home. It would be nicer if Manav came with her, she thought. Or maybe she would have to deal with Aai herself. After all, till when could she rely on Manav?
"I'll go get some things from the grocer's." she said. Manav nodded. As she walked away, he went to a small tea stall nearby and asked for a cutting chai. He sat on a stool silently sipping it.
Archana meanwhile, ordered for jaggery, dry fruits, sugar and ghee at the grocer's for the customary modak. Ganesh Chaturthi was due in two days, and though she knew no one at home was in a celebratory mood, yet the pooja had to be done at least. She wondered how Ganesh Puja was celebrated in the chawl. It would be her first Ganesh Puja here, she thought, and she had very less expectations, considering the circumstances at home.
Manav, meanwhile, tried to work out in his mind about how to manage the complicated situation. It was perplexing to say the least. He looked around himself, the chawl people were readying up the pandal (tent) to be put up for Ganpati Bappa. Manav muttered to himself. "Ganpati Bappa you brought me into this mess, now you only give me some indication of what to do and whom to support. You owe me this much."
Someone tapped his shoulder. He turned to look. It was Vaishali.
"Why are you talking to yourself?" she asked with a frown.
He was surprised to see her. "You.. here.. when did you.. ?" he appeared confused. "We thought you went to your home."
"No.. I didn't.. I.. I wanted to say something.. there is one thing which I skipped out today in Mrs. Ruhia's office." She said. Manav raised an eyebrow. "On purpose or by mistake?"
"On purpose," said Vaishali, hanging her head, "it was too embarrassing to be told in front of her. And later I was debating whether it would be the right time to tell you or not.. since you were already so depressed regarding your Aai. But then decided it would be better to tell it now, lest it creates more problems later."
Fear crept up in Manav's heart. "Has my Aai done anything else to harm Archana?"
"Not Archu Tai," said Vaishali. "It's about you."
Manav was confused. "Me?"
"How has my Aai harmed me?"
"Speak up now Vaishu! Please don't stay silent."
Vaishu took in a deep breath. "Jeeju, do you know why Archana Tai believed in Ajit's false stories so much?"
Manav nodded. "Lack of substantial evidence from my side, and confirmation of false tales by Shravani- she told Archana that I had a physical relationship with her as well and then dumped her midway, and was a brothel visitor and not trustworthy.. that I had cheated Archana and all the blames against me were true.."
"It's not because of that.."
Manav caught Vaishali by her shoulders and shook her hard.
"Speak up now Vaishali! Why does Archana believe that I'm a bad person with all the wrong habits?
Vaishali spoke in a small voice. "Cos your Aai told all this to her.."
It was as if the sky had fallen on Manav. He let go off Vaishali suddenly. "You're lying, right!?!" he said, shaking his head. "This cannot be true."
Vaishali had tears in her eyes. "No Jeeju, it is true." She said. "I didn't tell it earlier, cos as I said before, I didn't know whether you would believe me and how you would react, and I knew it would be difficult for you too- it could break you from your Aai.. but today.. when you accepted things in a civil and fair manner, heard both sides of the story and then made your decision, I felt that maybe you would give me a patient hearing too, and not jump to conclusions or think negatively of me, if I tell you about your Aai. Actually Jeeju, today when you apologized for your mother's mistake, treating it as your own, taking her mistake and punishment, humiliation, on your head, I felt it was too much. Tarun has told me many times- you're a good son and a good person, and you deserve to know that YOUR OWN PEOPLE are cheating you. You are fighting with outsiders and with destiny to save your marriage, but it is your own people who are corroding your world from inside in every way."
Manav could not hear anymore after that. Vaishali's words became fainter and fainter, and things around him seemed to go in a haze. He could see her saying something else, folding hands in front of him and then walking away, but he wasn't sure of what she said.
Shravani's words before she had gone to Bangalore rang in his ears. Till the end, she had tried to tell him this same thing, but at that time he had not believed her, cos he had felt she wasn't trustworthy anymore, and cos he trusted his Aai. He had disregarded her words as excuses that she was making to save her own skin. But today Vaishali was saying the same thing!
He knew it. It was true. His broken heart told him this time it was true. Thoughts went in and out of his mind again and again- fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Yes, everything fit now, he thought. Everything. Aai had always wanted him to marry a rich girl, more precisely, Shravani. But since he had no interest in her, she had accepted Archana and resorted to asking dowry from her. Ever since the day Archana had come into the house and Manav had discouraged Aai to take dowry from her, Aai had had problems with her, smaller at first, and they had magnified later after Archana left the house with nothing more to give her. She had abused Archana, and always tried to discourage him from getting her back home or proving his innocence. She had got an ally in Sachin, who had suddenly started doubting Manav's priorities and declared that he did not care for his family any more. Both of them had together encouraged Shravani, who had always been Aai's choice owing to the riches she could bring, and finally, Shravani and Aai had lied to create the ultimate misunderstanding between him and Archana, which no proof could shatter. After all, which mother could say such a disgusting thing about her own son?
Aai had, in general always been a little hard on him, he knew that. He also knew that she had always preferred Shravani cos she was rich. But this was the limit! How could she have done something as malicious as scheming and lying to break his home! How could she tell such lies about his character! He remembered how she had given him guilt trips and not talked to him when Sachin had left home. He remembered how badly she'd treated him the day he had told her he did not want to marry Shravani- she had disregarded his devotion of so many years and called him selfish and made him feel terrible. How would she feel now if he questioned her for what she had done- he thought, anger brimming up in his mind.
He remembered how Shravani had told him that his Aai was the snake which was harming him, that his own people were his enemies. A creepy feeling came into his heart- was it Aai who had instigated Sachin against him? Cos initially, Sachin had been totally supportive of him! He had not taken offence when Manav had taken a loan for Archana's night school but not for his business. It was later that his problems with Manav had started. Sachin's grievances against him had many a times been the same as Aai's in the initial days of marriage- that Manav had stopped prioritizing his family members and only thought about Archana. Even after he had left the house, Aai had continued meeting him, in fact Manav had come to know of Aai's plans for Shravani and him through Sachin only! Hadn't it been Sachin who had ultimately put the condition in front of him to get married to Shravani?
He immediately took out his cell phone and looked for Punit's number. Punit was one of Sachin's close friends, and Sachin had stayed with him for a few days after he had walked out of the Deshmukh residence. (Refer to previous parts)
The phone rang for a few seconds, and then Punit picked it up. "Hello?"
"Hello Punit, this is Manav, Sachin's brother."
"Oh hi Dada, How are you?"
"Yeah I'm fine.. Punit do you know where Sachin is now?"
"No Dada, he shifted to a posh hotel after living with me for two-three days. He was to get married soon. He said he would invite me for the marriage and the launch party of his business house, but as of now I've not got a single invite. I guess the newfound riches have made Sachin forget his old pals." Said Punit sadly.
Manav ignored all this. "Punit, when Sachin was with you, did he tell you about the fight at home?"
"Punit, don't pretend. After walking out of our home, if he came to you and stayed with you for the initial 2-3 days, then in his state of anger he must have said something to you as well, he must have vented out."
Punit's voice seemed sheepish. "Yeah, he vented quite a lot actually, he told me his Baba slapped him.. he was very angry and hurt.."
"And.. he said his brother is jealous of his good luck and.." suddenly Punit stopped. "Sorry Dada."
"It's okay, you continue."
"He was very angry with you Dada, he kept saying about how you don't care about him or anyone else, you want just Archana Vahini in your life and you only think about her, you only prioritize her, you could have given him money for business long time back, but you didn't do it. He said he was a fool that he hadn't realized all this until his Aai told him."
"Aai told him what?" Manav asked in a trembling voice.
"I don't know exactly," said Punit thoughtfully. "He was saying he was a fool not to have understood everything himself, it was Savita Kaku who made him realize that you being his stepbrother would never give him or his dreams priority- that Archana and Baba are all that matter to you, since THEY are your TRUE family, something like that. He said that that is why you did not take money for him from Ajit till the very end. But why are you asking all this Dada?"
"Nothing." Said Manav quietly. "Thankyou Punit." He cut the phone.
He could see things clearly now. Aai had wanted Sachin to go against him and oppose him, so that they could get money from Ajit and end the matter instead of unmasking him, and Archana would never come back in the house. She had built a wall of distrust between them, and ultimately Sachin had started considering his elder brother his enemy.
Manav stared at the bloody trail of events that he could now clearly see because of these revelations. Not only had Savita harassed and hurt Archana, plotted and broken his marriage, but also she had distanced him from his own brother Sachin! She had broken his family!!! All this while she had been cheating him, she had instigated a good girl like Shravani to do wrong things and hurt her father and him and shame herself! Shravani had always been a genuine well wisher, she had honestly tried to move on in life and wished the best for him and Archana. Aai had instigated and misguided her for her own selfish purposes and ruined their long standing friendship! She seemed to honestly NOT care for anyone in the world except for herself!
A sad feeling came into Manav's mind as he thought it all. He suddenly thought about the complaint that had pushed his Aai into jail, and the way she had suffered.
If Savita had not harassed Archana, then Manjusha would have never got the strength to make a complaint like this, knowing that she would get no support from the Karanjkars and her intentions would have been caught, plus she would have had to pay legal penalty for making a false complaint.
If Savita hadn't instigated Shravani about Archana, then Shravani would have properly guided Archana in the beginning itself about how to handle the abusive situation, and taken appropriate action against Savita. (Writer's note: Shravani used the situation to distance Archana from Manav and Savita instead of taking action. Taking action would have meant annoying Savita, which Shravani did not want.) As Mrs. Ruhia had told him, if the matter had come to her earlier, she would have given only a strict verbal warning to Savita, so that Archana's married life did not get spoiled. The matter wouldn't have got a chance to spiral so high.
If Savita hadn't created a rift between Sachin and him and led Sachin to ultimately walk out of the house, then at the time of the complaint, Sachin could have arranged for bail/legal action quickly with the help of his rich and influential new in laws, as soon as the arrest had taken place. The matter could have been nipped in the bud.
If Savita hadn't planned on breaking his marriage in this manner, cheating him in this manner, harassing his love behind his back- all this would not have happened.
Clearly, her own evil karmas had come back to bite her in the form of the jailing.
Ever since the jailing had happened, Manav had wondered about why Bappa had let evil Manjusha's sinister plan succeed, why Bappa had not helped HIM, about why the evil doers always got away with their deeds. But in that moment of confusion and horror, for the first time that day Manav felt he could understand why it had all happened. He felt it was God's punishment to a mother for having broken the trust of all those who had looked at her for guidance and believed in her totally. Though it came in the name of punishment for having harassed only Archana in an inhuman sort of way, it had actually resulted as a culmination of ALL the evil acts SHE had done- literally. It was actually Bappa's punishment to a mother for having hurt and used all her children- even Archana and Shravani- two people who had considered her a mother figure and always respected her. It was Bappa's punishment to a mother for her SIN. The punishment had come in the form of Manjusha's complaint for a VALID reason, even if made with the wrong intentions, and had come in a way that there was no way Savita could be compensated for it- she could not sue Manjusha for it, and she could not get her name cleared of this forever- something which Manav and Baba could do.
And it could have been avoided, if she had not done all she did.
A line said by his Baba once, now rang in his ears- "God has a plan for everyone." How do I fit into this plan though- Manav wondered. What had he done wrong to suffer in this jail complaint? Why had he got punished for nothing? But then again, these were mysteries that could only be cleared by time. All he could do was to wait and watch.
At the moment, he could only think about the catastrophe his Aai had unleashed. So, many people today were suffering due to the actions of his mother- Archana, himself, Sachin and even Shravani, not to forget the indirect sufferers- Archana's parents who had been harassed for dowry and seeing their daughter suffering, her Aai who had got a heart attack, the kids who had lost peace at home, Shravani's father- everyone!! And in return, she had suffered cos of her own actions. She had wrecked everyone's lives, broken so many relations, hurt so many people- the bloody trail was there to see in front of him. He gaped as he thought of everything again and again.
Someone tapped him at the shoulder again. He got up with a shudder. It was Archana, with polythene bags in her hand.
"Are you not going to the garage?" she asked. He looked as if he had seen a ghost.
"Manav, what happened to you?" she asked nervously. The colour had left his face. She put the back of her hand on his temple. "Are you alright? Are you feeling ill?"
He shook his head and took the bags from Archana. "Let's go home." He said quietly and started walking. Still not understanding what had happened and a little shaken up, she quietly followed.
Vaishali looked up at her parents waiting for an answer. She shrugged. "Then what? Then Mrs. Ruhia told that even though it was legal, yet it was a FOOLISHLY made complaint," she said, looking at Manjusha from the corner of her eye. "Nobody makes a complaint like this if the intention is to stay in the marriage. OBVIOUSLY the in laws and the husband will take offence and never forgive the family. It almost looked like an attempt to break the marriage."
Sulochana and Manohar looked embarrassed and guilty at these words. Manjusha stood up with anger. "Are you done with accusing me?" she asked.
"Why- I'm not accusing you!" said Vaishali, cool as a cucumber. "I just repeated what Mrs. Ruhia said, she knows more of such things, don't you think? It would have been better to ask her once than use your own peanut sized brain without even thinking."
"VINOD! I will leave this house!"
"Really?" said Vaishali, brightening up. "When?"
Manjusha looked shocked, then walked away to her room to cry, screwing up her face. "Vaishali what behavior is this!" asked Vinod angrily.
"I don't care." She said flatly. "When she doesn't think of right or wrong why should we think? Bcos of her both Manav Jeeju and Archu Tai will suffer now. Okay, all of you never think about Manav Jeeju, at least you could have thought about Archu Tai! How will she manage this new fiasco?"
"I have been saying from day one that we must get Archu back." Said Vinod. "And now it has become an absolute necessity. That mad woman Savita might just burn Archu down in anger. I have seen her hurting Archu with my own eyes, and I can never forget that scene."
Sulochana shuddered with fear. "Aho.. please let's get Archana back." She said to a pondering Manohar. "She is not safe in that house."
"Aai.. Manav Jeeju is ill.. you know that.."
"WHEN HAVE I SAID I WANT HIM TO DIE?" cried Sulochana, throwing her hands in the air. "I have never wished ill of him, or tried to harm him in ANYWAY! I even set aside money for him to help him in his treatment! I still feel bad that he got dragged into this fiasco for nothing! But if he is ill, his family is there to take care of him, why should my Archana put her life on stake!"
Manohar controlled Sulochana. "Sulochana, calm down, but this time I agree with Vaishali." He said, while a shocked Vaishali looked up at him. She had not expected this.
"Aho.. what are you saying?" said Sulochana worriedly, holding her pallu to her mouth.
"Sulochana, didn't you hear what Vaishali told us? Archana refused to testify for Savita only, but she is ready to testify for Manav and Damodar Bhau and go against Manjusha. This in itself shows that she is not blinded in our love any more now- she is not blinded in anyone's love. She will not support us if we are wrong. The umbilical cord of blind devotion has been cut. She is no longer the girl who considered us her world and would do anything- right or wrong- for us. She is now the daughter in law of that family- completely and totally. Our Archana has grown up now. She has become big enough to take her own decisions."
Sulochana was still too shocked to say anything.
"Earlier I also wanted her to come back to us, you know that very well. But now when she has made her decision and intention loud and clear, then it is better if we try to make life easier for her instead of opposing her. At one time, parents must understand that they have to accept their children's decisions in life. And from then on, their efforts should be to make sure that their children's decisions give rise to good results. If we only keep hindering their decisions and keep hoping their efforts fail, just so that they come back to us crestfallen- then how is it fair? Now look here.." he paused. "If we had accepted Archana's decision when she went back to Manav, and talked about Savita Aai to Manav to ensure Archana's comfortable stay in that house, told him that if Archana has come back, you must keep watch on your Aai cos her behavior is not good etc etc, then Manav would have handled his Aai properly. The need for complaint wouldn't have arisen- the matter wouldn't have spiraled till here."
"Manav would have done no such thing." Said Sulochana Aai. "He is as devoted a son as Archana is a devoted daughter."
"No Aai," piped in Vaishali. "He did apologize to Tai for his Aai's mistakes and admitted that she was wrong. At the same time, he told her off for not telling him earlier. He resents all of us cos we too never gave him a chance to settle all this earlier, and are now supporting Manjusha Vahini when she hastily took a veryyy severe step. Then again, he understands how much we have all been harassed too. He is undoubtedly hurt and upset by everything and upset for his Aai, but still, he is a very FAIR person."
Sulochana was not satisfied. "Then call me selfish, bad, unfair whatever, I don't care." She said, weeping. "I just want my daughter to be safe and happy, I don't want her to go through any more unhappiness. She has frankly had enough!"
"You are right Sulochana." Said Manohar Baba. "Unfortunately, as always, we have diverging views on 'how we can take away her unhappiness'. Just like always, you don't want to accept reality." He said, shaking his head. "Earlier too, you wanted to get Archana married to a very rich and well educated guy, not wanting to accept the reality that no such guy would want to marry an eighth pass girl. At that time when I had decided on Manav- a mere mechanic- for Archana, you had blamed me of being a bad father and not loving Archana. It is the same situation today. Today again, you want Archana to come back when you know very well she is NOT going to come back leaving her husband in difficult times, cos you do not want her to suffer more in that house. Your intentions are not wrong at all- at the end of the day, you just want her to be safe and happy. But I'm not going to sit and wait for her to back out from these difficult times and come back to us, when I know there is little hope of that happening. I'd rather go and make things easier for her. Earlier also, I accepted reality and made a decision to get Archana married to a mechanic, less educated like her, but one who loves her. And today also, I will accept reality and try to resolve the situation rather than pray for it to change miraculously. Archana cannot fight this alone. Instead of weakening her by pressurizing her, we must try to make situations a bit easier for her. It is understandable if Manav is hurt and angry with us, we seriously never gave him a chance and we let the matter proceed till here."
"What will you do Baba?" asked Vaishali curiously.
"I will go and speak to Manav tomorrow." He said quietly, and got up, while Sulochana wept. "Every time, he makes decisions which make life more difficult for Archana." She said. "Last time too, and this time too.."
"He is actually doing the right thing, I think." Said Vaishali. "It's you who is behaving difficult."
"Shut up!" said Sulochana angrily. "The day you get married and have a daughter of your own and worry every minute for her well being when she goes to her in laws, that day you will understand why I'm being difficult. I just wish and pray your daughter will not go in such a home and amidst people like Savita. I'm being difficult because I know I have a daughter who DOES NOT PROTEST and often gets USED by people selfishly. That is why I'm being difficult and don't want her to live in that mad family. Call me selfish, or whatever- I don't care!" She got up and walked angrily into her room, crying, while Vaishali felt bad at having behaved insensitively.
Archana and Manav walked back quietly to their home. It was dusk now, and it would soon be dark in a little while. "Have a cup of tea before you go back to the garage." Archana said, noticing the way Manav was putting his hands on his temples again and again.
Manav nodded. His head was aching badly now.
They stood at the door, waiting for Aai to open it. Manav's heart thumped loudly. The recent revelations were flying about in his mind. He wondered whether it would be appropriate of him to go and scold his Aai for her behavior towards Archana and also demand some answers from her. This was something he was dying to do.
The door opened. Aai smiled. "Come in," she said, walking back into the house. "How are you back so early," she asked.
Seeing her in front of him reminded him of the jailing and all that she had endured. She has already got her punishment- he thought sadly to himself. Was there any use in stretching the matter now, scolding her for everything she had done?
She turned back when he didn't answer, and then saw Archana behind him. "So you are here again!" she said angrily. "Manav, I will not tolerate this girl a moment more in this house! Turn her out immediately! She has no respect for me! Today she went to that blasted NGO of hers even though I told her not to go, the same one who is brainwashing her against all of us!"
Archana tried to be bold. "Aai, I told you I need to keep this job.." she said.
"I don't want to hear anything from you!" said Savita harshly. "Ever since you've come into this house, you've only given us trouble. Bcos of you my Sachin left this house! Bcos of you my Manav has suffered so much! Bcos of you we had to visit the police station- all because of you!!! Such a bad luck you are to this house!"
Manav lifted his eyes to look at his mother as she said all this. Everything she was saying was wrong- and she knew it. She was simply blaming others for her own mistakes. Resentment started brewing inside him like bile. However he reminded himself of her suffering and controlled himself.
"You get out of this house right now, else I'll.." Savita threatened.
"Manav, ask her to get out! Just looking at her makes me remember our morning in prison. It's a source of fresh pain to my wounds."
He didn't say anything. Archana stood rooted to the spot, looking at him. Savita raised her voice. "And now after trying to play the docile daughter in law, she refused to testify against Manjusha also! She cares a fig for all of us! She doesn't think of us at all. She isn't a Deshmukh!"
"Aai, she said she will testify against Manjusha Vahini for me and Baba and get us justice."
Savita's eyes shot up with anger. "What about me?"
Manav was silent. "Aai.. I think you know very well why she will not testify for you." He said gravely, trying to keep himself calm. "You know it very well." Inside, the storm was beginning to rise within him.
Savita stared in rage and then rushed to Archana. "So now you will go against me?!?" she shrieked, pulling her harshly by the arm. Manav was shocked. Clearly, the complaint had not changed her at all.
"Aai!" said Archana, pulling her arm away. Her wounded elbow hurt her. "Don't do that!"
"Not one more word, else I'll.."
"Else you'll what?" said Manav angrily.
Both Archana and Savita were startled.
"Else you'll throw her out of the house on the streets like you've done before?" he said in a tart voice. "Or you'll abuse her in front of her brother? Or you'll go around telling everyone what a bad characterless person she is?"
Archana looked away. Savita struggled about what to say.. "Manav.. I.."
"Don't make excuses!" Manav shot suddenly. "Don't make stories to justify yourself now! I know everything about how you have behaved with Archana in the past!"
"Manav.. whatever gave you this idea.." said Savita, nervous on seeing Manav suddenly so angry. "Who has told you this rubbish.."
"The Police told me this rubbish." Said Manav coldly. "The NGO people told me this rubbish. Vaishali told me this rubbish. All the chawl people are testifying for this rubbish."
"Oh, so this girl has gone and cried to her stupid NGO now?" Savita looked angrily at Archana, and rushed to pull her hard by the elbow. "First you sent us to prison, now what more do you want?"
"AAI!!!" He moved forward and pulled Archana from Savita's hold, standing in between both of them like a wall. "Don't behave in this way with her! We've already suffered due to your behavior once, now why do you want to repeat it all again?"
Savita looked angry. "What do you mean you are suffering due to my behavior?" she said angrily. "Nothing wrong I did with her. Such things happen every day in the chawl. We didn't suffer bcos of me, but rather bcos of your association with this stupid family that went and complained. Hundreds of times I told you to call this marriage off, but your obstinacy has burned this house. And now you have the nerve to blame me for it!"
"No use in shifting blames." He said flatly. "If it had not been them, it would have been some other family complaining against you- maybe Girishji, if you had ill treated Shravani. Your behavior enables people like Manjusha to take advantage and make such complaints against you. She would have never done it otherwise, knowing she would be sued. Your behavior will land us in jail again if you don't stop."
Savita looked stunned. "Look who is speaking- the one whose mistakes have led this house to disaster is speaking up against me! You could not be a good brother or son and even now you are not supporting me- speaking to your mother in this way, whereas it is bcos of your association with Karanjkars and your wife that I went to jail- bcos of YOU I went to jail." She scrunched up her face and started crying.
Manav was shocked. Hundreds of times he had heard these unfair accusations, and even now, after him suffering unfairly for HER mistakes, it was being proclaimed that HE was a bad son and being given guilt trips! After trying to be sympathetic to her keeping in mind her condition, even though she had behaved so badly to Archana, he was STILL being accused for HER mistakes! Anger rose high in his head. He held his Aai by her shoulders and made her look at him.
"Tell me one thing first," he said sternly. "Why did you instigate Sachin against me?"
Her eyes widened in fear. Tears stopped coming out of her eyes in shock. "Whatever gave you this idea.." she mumbled.
"Why did you instigate Shravani and use her to break my marriage?" Savita had no answer. She fidgeted nervously. Archana meanwhile, stared in shock.
"Why did you lie to Archana about my character?" he asked, trying to hold his tears. "Why have you been trying to break my marriage?"
"Who.. who has told you all this..?" asked Aai. "This is all false.. I did nothing.."
"WHY DID YOU SCHEME AGAINST ME ALL THE TIME?" he demanded loudly. "Instigating Sachin against me, Archana against me, distanced Shravani from me.. why did you do it all?"
"Manav, behave yourself." Said Aai sternly. "You have no right to question me in this manner."
"WHY NOT?" he shot back. "You have all the right to give me guilt trips, accuse me, scheme against me, manipulate things, and I do not have the right to even question you? Do you even know how much your actions have ruined this house?" He was totally out of control now, the suppressed pain of 4 months flowing freely in his veins. "You have harassed Archana to death most shamefully, you have used Shravani like a tissue paper and destroyed my relationship with her Dad, you have led Sachin to leave the house and you have broken my marriage!! All my well wishers quit me cos of you. I'm alone today cos of you! And yet you have the right to blame me, accuse me for the jailing, but I do not have the right to even question you!?! Do these things come across as trifle to you!?!"
Sensing the situation was spiraling out of control, Archana tried to pull Manav away. "Manav, I think you need your meds, you don't seem in the right state.." she said. But Manav freed himself from her hold. "You stay away from this." He told her sternly. "This is between me and my mother." She backed out at once. He looked back at Savita Aai. "SPEAK UP NOW, I WANT ANSWERS!!!" he said loudly.
Savita was wild with rage. "CHUP! I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING WRONG, SO I WILL NOT GIVE ANY JUSTIFICATION!" she yelled, desperately thinking of how to defend herself. She knew Vedant Vandita had come out and were now standing in a corner and listening to everything with troubled faces. "Don't utter nonsense in front of the kids!"
"Why not?" he asked angrily. "Let them also know na! If you think you haven't done anything wrong, then let the kids know everything! Why are you feeling ashamed of them?" he walked to the kids agitatedly. "Twins, do you know why your Sachin Dada left this house? Bcos your Aai filled his head with rubbish against me! And you can't even begin to imagine what your Aai has been telling everyone about me- I can't even bring myself to repeat it."
He looked back at her. "How could you say such a disgusting thing about me?" he asked, holding back his tears. "And how could you instigate Sachin saying I am his stepbrother so I wouldn't care about him? It's you who is behaving like a typical step mother here! Would you have said something like this about Sachin too? Would you have broken his marriage the way you broke mine?"
"What rubbish are you uttering!" she said suddenly. "Why would I say something like this about Sachin? Why would I break his marriage? Sachin is getting married to a rich girl who is going to make his life prosperous- not like you who got married to this chit of a girl who got so little dowry which she took back with her when she left the house! He's not DUMB like you to refuse marriage to a golden egg-laying-hen like Shravani! You want answers right? Fine, this is my answer! Yes, I did it all. And I did it cos I wanted Shravani in this house, not this Archana who is useless in every sense."
Manav looked at her in shock. "Is money the only thing that matters to you?" he asked in a daze. "Does my HAPPINESS mean NOTHING to you? Is that all I'm to you?- a commodity to be sold in the marriage market?- the highest bidder gets to have me so that YOU can get rich."
"Everyone does the same." She said flatly. "So don't accuse me as if I've done something new. This love-shove is stupidity. You know me well Manav that I'm too practical to think about these silly considerations. You know I've always detested this poverty stricken life. You may be happy here but I'm not happy! You are a fool to have refused Shravani, but I AM NOT A FOOL! I wanted a rich bahu like Shravani, I brought her in the house by crook! I'm your mother and I have the right to decide how you live and who you live with!"
Manav looked at her in shock. "You are NOT my mother." He said, shaking his head. "My mother died when I was 9 years old. Don't compare yourself with her bcos she would have NEVER done such a thing to me. She would never have separated me from the people I love or spoken about me in this manner. She would have never tried to use me as a money making machine. Never! She's not a crocodile to devour her own eggs."
"MANAV!" Savita screeched, but Manav had walked off from there in rage. He could hear shouting behind him. "Look what he said to me! And all this is bcos of you!" Promptly he turned back. As expected, Savita was again troubling Archana, who was trying to set herself free violently. "ENOUGH!" he said angrily, caught Archana by the hand and walked off pulling her along with him into their bedroom. With a loud bang he closed the door. Then he turned to Archana who was looking very worried. "Manav, please calm down." She begged him.
"Now you see why I want you to get out of this hell hole?" he shouted at her. "In the first place, do you even realize you are in a hell hole? A hell hole where a son slogs his as* off for the family for more than 15 years, only to find one day that he has been betrayed by his own people, who don't care for his happiness, they only care about what they want! For that they scheme, they plot, they lie, they give him guilt trips, they never care about what HE wants! Only one thing he wanted from them- to accept a girl he liked and take care of her- this much also they couldn't do! Forget doing it, my Aai actually spoke disgusting things to make me look bad in your eyes! She actually separated me from my brother to get her way! She instigated my closest friend and made her shameless in my own eyes. Sheesh! Sh** sh** sh**!"
He looked away suddenly. "You still have time!" he said in a cold voice. "Go away from this house! You see now na, how little security you have in this house? When I being a son am not cared for in this house, then what life do you expect here? Your parents are overprotective, impose on you, make decisions for you at times, are unfair to me- but EACH of their efforts is in the direction of what they presume would be happiness for YOU, unlike my people, who advise, no, they DEMAND that I make decisions based on what THEY want in life. You will be happier there than here! You will be happier anywhere than here! Go from here! GO!"
He pushed her away slightly. She stood close to him, crying. He, on the other hand, was NOT crying. He was just standing there, looking at the ground, taking deep breaths. Finally he went and stood near the window. "Manav.."
"I'm okay." He said, waving her off with his hand, trying to sound fine. "I'm not so weak to mope and cry and there is certainly no point in shedding tears for those who don't care about me anyway. I'm okay. It's good I came to know of this. It's good all this happened. It's much much better than being cheated for another 15 years. It will pain only for one night now. The pain of one night is certainly better than the pain of a lifetime. At least I came to know the real faces of some so called well wishers."
She stood close to him, waiting to see if he would turn, but he did not. She sat on the bed, drawing her knees close, observing him. He simply stood in silence, his hands on the bars of the window, looking outside, lost in his own thoughts. She desperately wished she could know what he was thinking. His silence made her way too uncomfortable.
For a long while, she too did not say anything. She simply sat and watched him, her thoughts brimming very fast, so much that it almost caused her to pain. She rested her head on her folded knees and tried to collect her thoughts.
The clock ticked away. Hours passed and soon it was night. The rays of dusk vanished and the room was engulfed in partial darkness, the only light being that of the streetlight coming from outside.
The atmosphere in the room remained the same- she simply sat and thought, looking at Manav from time to time, with tears in her eyes, while he stood quietly at the window. Later he came and sat down on the bed, looking into the darkness. She wished he would cry once and end it all- his silence made her feel more worried for him.
She looked at him again a few minutes later. It had been so long since he had not spoken. "Manav, it is time for dinner.."
"Huh?" he looked at her.
"It is time for dinner.. will you eat now?" she asked.
He shook his head. She did not force him. She knew what he was going through. She went to resting by the bed again.
"Archana," he said suddenly a few minutes later. "Bring dinner."
She looked at him, amazed at this sudden change in decision.
"Go and bring dinner." He said in a grave voice. "I have to take medicines."
She got up and sat next to him. He continued.
"We cannot stop living bcos of such things. Instead of crying, I need to drill it into my mind that I am perhaps my only family now, that I need to take care of myself on my own. I have greater responsibility now- responsibility towards myself- now that I know I have a not-interested brother who chose to believe someone else's words and walk over me, a selfish mother, an ignorant father who cannot be depended upon, and little siblings who are incapable of helping me- and might even leave me tomorrow if Aai brainwashes them as well, I should accept it and move ahead to take care of myself rather than being sad about it, or being affected by what they say. I should accept it that my condition is as good as no family, and I have to look out for myself on my own. The sooner I accept this bitter fact, the better it will be for me. Go and get dinner."
She did not budge. She still sat near him, old memories coming back to her as she stared at Manav's silent face. For some reason, she remembered the time when Manav and she had been returning home in the car after their marriage.
Archana on the other hand, in the back seat of the car with Manav, quietly wiped away her tears as she handed Manav back his cell. He accepted it silently. Everything felt weird. Savita was sitting in the front seat and chattering but everything seemed muted out to her. She felt scared thinking of her new life alone, with her family faraway, and she sitting with strangers, not knowing what had made her trust them. She looked at Manav. He seemed lost. He looked at her suddenly, and she lowered her gaze, looking blankly at the silver idol of goddess Parvati from the gaurihar puja, that she had brought along as part of tradition, and an idol of Bappa that her Aai had given her.
A rough and warm hand touched hers gently. She was taken aback, and was almost about to pull her hand away in alarm when she looked at Manav's face, the softness in his features and the understanding in his eyes.
"You're with family," he whispered. "Don't worry, I am there, and everything will be alright."
She looked at Manav again, very seriously. He was grave and looking as composed as ever, but his eyes could not lie. His sadness got reflected in his eyes. She could not blame him. Every time people closest to him let him down, and today Aai had crossed all limits. He had no one in the house to take his side or even speak up for him. She could not blame him if he felt so lonely.
She touched his hand softly. He looked up at her in alarm, as she held his big hand in between her soft fair hands.
"You're not alone." She said firmly, yet softly. "You will never be alone. You're with family. I am your family. Don't worry, I'm there, and everything will be alright."
He kept looking at her, staring with shock as this was the first time she had done something like this. Under normal situations, he would have given her yet another lecture or rant of 'how will things be alright', on how easy it sounded but was difficult to implement and so on.
But something held him back this time. He didn't know what. Maybe it was her determination, the way she had taken his hands in his for the first time- as if it was her right to support and comfort him, that she had been sensitive to him, or just the plain fact that she was there with him today when no one else was- trying to make him feel better. He was grateful that she had respected his feelings and not tried to probe on insensitively while he had silently mourned everything. At that moment, her heartfelt concern touched him, her little gesture touched him.
She looked at the alarm clock. "It is late, everyone must have gone to sleep. I will get dinner for both of us. Wash your hands and face." He got up and was about to go in the bathroom when she called out to him. "What is it?" he asked.
"If you feel like talking, you can talk to me.."
"I don't want to talk right now." He said in a quiet voice.
"Okay." She said quietly. "I will go and get dinner."
She took a towel and rubbed her own tears firmly. As she held on to the towel, she wondered what Manav must be thinking of her. It was nice of him to not have rebuked her when she had held his hand a few minutes back, but she knew that Manav did not really trust her enough to stand on her decisions, or consider her strong enough to give any kind of support to him. She knew he considered that she had come back for the 'wrong reason', that their marriage had no substance in it, and that she ought to go back cos she wouldn't be able to live in this house, and her staying with him would lead to more problems. He wasn't really optimistic about anything anymore, and was only interested in trying to avoid more problems.
But in her heart, she knew her place was with Manav. He was neck deep in trouble and she had to be with him to help him face it all and emerge victorious- there was no way he could handle everything alone right now. He was depressed and had lot all hope, and he was not the type of person who would admit it or ask others for any kind of support- she needed to be with him, to offer him peace, to give him the support and family love he needed at the moment, to hold his hand in these storms.
Maybe he did not feel she had it in him to stand these testing times with him, or to make the marriage last on a long term, but she had faith- she knew the level of her commitment and her own capablities. Yes, she was emotionally driven and soft-hearted and made decisions based on her feelings sometimes and not keeping in mind bitter reality, but that was just the way she was! In his whole rant of having come back for 'wrong reason', Manav completely missed the point that for whatever reason she had come back, she had come back cos of her LOVE for him, genuine love and concern, nothing else-which could NOT be wrong. Manav did not have faith on her love or her feelings, or understand their strength enough to depend on her in these times, but she knew them, and the limits she could cross for her LOVED ONES if she chose to. She was, after all, the same person who had broken her engagement when she had been unable to bear her parents' state, and never regretted it. She was the same person who had left her studies for her ailing Aai and family and never gone back on her decision, or regretted it.
Maybe Manav did not realize this now, but he was one of those loved ones for whom she was willing to fight against the world. It was her turn now to support the man who had supported her through thick and thin. It was her turn now, to be the strength of someone on whom she had always relied so far.
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