He woke the next morning to find that he was lying with his head pillowed in her lap. She was still wearing the same saree as the night before, though her blouse was lying on the bed next to him; as his memory of the night before returned slowly, he recalled untying her doris.
Hard on the heels of that memory came the memory of what happened next. He remembered the feel of her lips on his, then his anger as he realised she was simply submitting to him. His head was aching a little, a reminder of the pain that had crippled him last night; as he took in the way he was lying, he realised that she had spent the entire night ensuring that he slept peacefully.
Confused, for such acts of caring had no place in the relationship he had constructed in his mind, he sat up slowly; she woke as she felt him move. Their eyes met for a moment before he moved away; he felt rather than saw the movement as she wrapped her pallu tightly around her to cover herself. He kept his back to her as he spoke.
“I don’t need you to sacrifice yourself; I’m not a monster. I don’t expect the use of your body as payment for accepting you as my wife Geet, please itna samajhlein. Main jaanwar nahin hoon. Whatever your reasons for marrying me may have been, whatever understanding we had between us, whatever your expectations are, I can’t believe that I ever let you think that you had to sleep with me to keep your part of the bargain.”
He heard her draw a breath behind him then she spoke “It’s not like that, I was just trying to………look, can we just forget what happened last night. Aap ka headache ab kaisa hai?”
For a moment he wondered whether to let the matter drop or not, but the look on her face told him that now was not the right time to discuss things further.
“Behtar hai; aap ko raat bhar aise baithne ki zaroorat nahin thi”
She smiled, and this time her smile wasn’t filled with anger or bitterness, but instead with an incredible tenderness.
“Aap ko yaad nahin hai, magar kuch din pehle aap bhi raat bhar mujhe aisehi apni baahon mein lekar soye the. Aapke investigator ne aap ko nahin bataya?”
Before he could say anything, she slid off the bed and into the bathroom, leaving him wondering about the details the investigator hadn’t been able to find.
He tried to summon the anger that was normally so close to the surface, to remind himself that he hadn’t wanted a wife and that she should be grateful that he was agreeing to honour the contract he had entered into, even though he didn’t remember it. He tried, but failed
Somewhere inside him a little spark of recognition was trying to grow stronger- a feeling that he knew Geet, knew her as if she were part of him. The initial anger and unmentioned terror over his amnesia had drowned out that spark of recognition, but now that he had begun to come to terms with what had happened to him, that little spark was refusing to remain unacknowledged.
Needing time to think, he changed into his tai-chi clothes and made his way to the gym. He let the rhythm of the katas flow through him, allowing his mind to empty of all conscious thought. After a while, he couldn’t ignore it any longer- the feeling he had that perhaps there was more to the story than he could gather simply from the investigator’s report. As he continued the movements, he thought about the reports and the starkness of the newspaper articles; was it possible that more had happened between them, behind closed doors, than he had previously been willing to contemplate?
He almost wanted to laugh at himself. Was he actually wondering whether he had ‘fallen in love’ with her. Love. A ridiculous emotion, one he had never believed in. Even as the well-worn internal mockery of love started, another one of his inner voices insisted on making itself heard. Hadn’t he been the one who had listened to his grandparents’ stories, hadn’t he been the one who had once hoped of finding a true partner in life the way his grandfather had?
His movements grew jerkier as he remembered the moment he had stopped believing in love- the moment he had heard his parents coolly discussing their respective infidelities and how much they hated each other. His beautiful glittering mother and his dignified father whispering invective at each other whilst hosting the annual Khurana karwa-chauth gathering; telling each other how they needed to get the whole rigmarole over and done with as quickly as possible so that they could go and be with their respective lovers. He had been thirteen; within six months, his mother was dead and he had a stepmother and a new two-year-old baby brother he hadn’t known about.
From then on, he hadn’t believed in love, hadn’t trusted in something that was so easy to fake and so easy to replicate.
As he remembered his parents, his resolve firmed—of course he wasn’t in love with his wife, because love didn’t exist. He was attracted to her, dammit-lusted after her, he even admired her, but he didn’t love her. And she didn’t love him- she was probably irritated that she wasn’t able to bring him under her control as she had expected to be able to, and the kiss tonight had been another attempt to gain the upper hand.
Coming to the end of his katas, he stood silent for a moment, Geet’s tender smile filling his mind. He was willing to wait till she realised that she wasn’t going to win the contest of wills between them- he’d made his move, now she was going to have to make hers. He was willing to wait until she’d made it clear what she wanted from this marriage.
(And if part of him wondered what made him persist, why he didn’t just give up on the marriage and return to his bachelor freedom, he suppressed it- he was married, Geet was his wife and that was just the way things were going to be).
—————————————————————————————————— to be continued……..
—————————————————————————————————— to be continued……..