Author : Biju Chandran
Company : Speridian Technologies
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Head over heels
On the way back from the fourth and final counselling session stipulated by the Family Court, Anindita’s mind was painfully blank. Tara was furious, and mumbled expletives as they marched down the narrow alleyway to the main thoroughfare. Always careful and calculative, mindful and meticulous, as she was often described by her boss, Anindita was but farthest from her true self that morning, especially after the proceedings at the counsellor’s office. Her composure had burst at its seams, and she seemed lost, completely. It was almost 10.45 am and peak-hour traffic in Bangalore city was dwindling by the minute. When another vehicle screeched to a sudden halt to avoid bumping into Anindita outside the kerb on the road, Tara pulled her back to the payment for the third time. After shouting back at the driver, her voice moistened with compassion as she asked, “Coffee, Anu?”
Anindita nodded vaguely. She was still wondering whether the little pup she had spotted early this morning with its front leg caught in the iron grating over the sewerage sump of her apartment complex, had pulled itself out alive. She had just scrambled out of bed after a sleepless night, and the pup’s whines fell into her ears almost immediately. The pup was too small and weak to escape on its own, and its ‘mummy’ was nowhere to be seen, if it had one. It was too young to realize the pitfalls of struggling to pull out the injured leg – with each attempt, its leg was getting cut deeper and its chances of survival was getting more bleak. If its mummy was around, she could have saved the pup from the situation. She had informed the caretaker about the pup as she was rushing out of the complex in the morning, and God knows what happened afterwards.
“Affirmative or negative, girl?” Tara badgered on.
“No, Tara. I…I’m fine. I just want to go home.”
“Why home? You seem super fine, and you need to get ahead and get a life. Go to work,” Tara was relentless.
Tara had always been like that. She was Anindita’s classmate and ‘bestie’ from college, who had become her friend in need – an extra pair of hands when she was helpless, or a pillow whenever she was let down by the world. Even after they got married to their respective partners, Tara was always ready to make space for Anu anytime, anywhere. However, till her marriage hit the rocks, Anu (as she was affectionately called by her friends and family) had little space to spare for anyone else in her heart other than Biswas. That name – ‘Biswas’ – was the trigger, Anu recalled, as she walked quietly beside Tara from Cunningham Road to the Sivaji Nagar Bus Terminal.
“Here comes your Route 333 – get down at RMZ Titanium and go straight to office. Don’t talk to anyone today. Act normal. Most importantly, no tears. Otherwise, you’ll spend the whole day listening to people’s clichéd set of advices,” Tara said sternly. She was excellent matron material, Bichchu (only Anu called Biswas thus, fondly) would often say.
Anindita avoided Tara’s steady gaze as she boarded the bus. The bus looked almost empty for that hour. As it started moving forward through the city traffic, Anindita’s thoughts raced backwards.
For the first two months after she joined Christ College, she was busy getting herself accustomed to the new city, hostel life and the Bangalore weather. Anu was from Guwahati and her parents were quite apprehensive of letting their daughter move away from home. But Anu wanted to attend the same college from where Gaurav, her elder brother, had graduated. Together, they were able to convince their parents that learning became complete only when children moved out of home – their womb and comfort space.
It was ‘Malhar’ time in Christ College and Anindita Das and Tara Hegde were in their freshman year. Having winged out from a conservative and strict girls’ school background, Anu had been waiting eagerly for the renowned annual cultural fiesta of the college. She had found herself a great friend in Tara, who was quite different from the other pompous, vain girls in her class. Tara was brazenly outspoken and had quite a good grasp of the way the world worked, and those were the very qualities Anindita adored in her. Tara was just like an elder sister to her, and Anu would even call her ‘mummy’ sometimes.
Memories of those days were still fresh in her mind as though they were frames frozen in time; or rather those were the only memories worth cherishing in her entire life, she felt. It was the second day of the cultural fest, and the event she had been waiting anxiously for, Western Dance, was being staged. She had always been quite enthusiastic about dance, regularly followed dancers and dance events, and had self-learnt several forms. Tara was the first to spot a gorgeous guy, who invited ‘wow’s from the audience with his unconventional face and features, and his improvised steps and sways in the team dance events. Anu and Tara had to squeeze themselves into the packed auditorium for his solo performance. Half the college’s female population were already his fans, Anu realized from the adulation in the eyes around and the hysteric cheers, as he danced his way to glory.
Biswas Roy was a hero, they learned in the following days. He had chiseled looks and a fabulous body, and a smile to die for. Anu and Tara followed him with their eyes whenever he was around. Within no time, both the girls developed a crush on him. When Tara learned that Anu’s ‘crush’ was deeper set than hers, she prompted Anu to go talk to Biswas. However, Anu was too scared to walk up to him and say ‘Hi’. Blame it on the conservative upbringing, she would often scream inside, when other girls were seen all around him, enjoying his proximity and devouring his good looks from such close quarters that she couldn’t even dream of. She was jealous of all those city-bred damsels. Several nights, she trained hard with Tara in the hostel, mocking up opportunities they would create for her to exchange pleasantries with him. But invariably, the next day, she would stutter, sweat and go weak in the knees when he came anywhere around. So, all she was able to do was feast her eyes on him, and dream of him – dry or even wet sometimes – night after night.
Biswas would never even have glanced at her all through that year, if Tara had not placed a couple of ‘love letters’ stolen from Anu’s diary in his satchel one evening in the soccer field, when he was out playing. When Anu got to know, she was furious, but deep inside, she was happy that letters that she had written after her most intimate imaginary trysts with ‘Bichchu’ had reached the intended pair of eyes. That was on a Friday evening, and she still remembered vividly that through the Saturday and Sunday which followed, her anxiety had touched feverish pitches.
On Monday, she was scared pale to find Biswas Roy in front of her classroom. Beyond her wildest dreams, he walked in straight to her, followed by a bewildered Tara, and asked in that unique husky voice, whether she wrote those letters. She muttered apologies, but cutting her short, Biswas uttered the most beautiful line she had ever heard in her life, “If these are your words, ma’am, I’m head over heels with you.”
The bus screeched to a rude halt trying to save a biker, and Anu looked out through the Window. A familiar high-rise towered before her eyes, just beside the bus stop. She realized it was Domlur, and scurried down the bus. As she walked into RMZ Titanium, she thought, what if someone from the team spotted her? Not in this state of mind, no. She had always been a tough taskmaster for her research team. Or did she deliberately put up that façade in front of all her professional connections, to hide her innermost insecurities, fear and vulnerabilities? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was that there were wolves all around the board room, waiting for her blood, with bated breath for an off-guard moment. She had survived and emerged a leader purely based on her aptitude as a first-class researcher. Nobody could beat her on the professional front. And nobody should beat her down, poking at her weakest face on the personal front. She had successfully kept all details about personal life from the eyes of prying colleagues. She divulged only those details she deemed fit for everyone to know and talk about. She knew there were rumours behind her back, but she couldn’t care less. None should be able to get a whiff of the mysteries that shrouded Anindita Das – not at least when she was still around.
Stealthily she made it to the lobby of her office on the sixth floor, and asked the girl at the reception for a pain balm. While she went to fetch it, Anu rang up Tara from the landline in office. That was enough to convince her at least till the evening. And before evening, everything had to be over.
If Gaurav dada had not moved to the US six months into his first job, her life would not have been the same, Anindita thought as she sat in another bus to Marathalli. He was very protective of his kid sister, and would never have allowed her to cry. But then, ‘conditional clauses’ are absolutely irrelevant in life. As the caretaker of their apartment complex, Imran bhai often said, “Saala life ki DVD player mein toh Replay button hi nahin hai.” Very true. Education corrupts people’s minds. The most illiterate people have the most genuine hearts, Anu had often felt. With great learning comes guile and shrewdness.
Imran bhai was a gem. Without him and his family, who stayed in an outhouse inside the compound of their apartment complex, life would have been near to impossible for her and Apu, she remembered. Four-year-old Aprameya (her Apu) got along well with only bhai and his wife, Zareena. Though Zareena had failing eyesight and trouble in her joints, the elderly couple filled the void of grandparents in Aprameya’s otherwise colourless life so far. Every evening after school, Imran bhai would pick up Apu from the nearby bus stop, where the school bus dropped him off, and take him to his outhouse. Zareena would give him a wash, change his dress and feed him with so much of love, Anu remembered gratefully. Else, her poor little son would have to wait till she got back home from work, which could be late.
Anindita’s thoughts bolted home again, towards Biswas. Misguided by his name, Anindita never realized till late and till they were seriously into the relationship, in every sense of it, that Biswas Roy was in fact from a Malayalee Christian family settled in Bangalore. She had assumed that he was from the North Eastern part of India, just like her. Since cultural differences were seldom a topic of discussion in a budding relationship between two young people then, she never bothered to ask, and he never bothered to tell. They were so much in love and so much in a hurry to consummate the emotion. But when they wanted to take the relationship to the next level, she was shattered as she learned about his family background.
When they decided to put this across to their parents, she was only half as hopeful as he was. Her conservative parents would never allow an alliance from a boy, whose family and roots lay deep inside the southernmost state. His parents and sister weren’t enterprising as well. Hell broke loose in both the families when they got to know. Language, rituals, rules, lords – nothing bound them to each other, other than their inseparable hearts. When her parents threatened to end her education, they decided to take the leap and tie the knot.
Life for the next few years was sweet and beautiful for them, almost like sequences straight out of a Bollywood romance. They completed their graduation, got their own jobs, they went places, set up their own home, much to the dismay of at least some of her college mates, who were jealous of her for flicking off Biswas, the heart-throb. But all good things, like the movies, had to come to an end, she sighed, as the bus reached Marathalli.
She got down from the bus, and walked straight to her regular medical store.
“Two strips of Telday-80,” Anindita told the boyish Salesman. He must be a new recruit, she thought, since she hadn’t seen him around earlier.
As he packed the drug for her, he told her casually: “Do you have kids at home, ma’am? If you do, please keep such high-dosage anti-hypertension drugs away from them. They can be dangerous, you might know.”
“Mmm..hmm,” she nodded as she tucked the drug into her shoulder bag.
She walked towards her apartment complex across the overbridge. When she could see Imran bhai near the gate, she halted and stepped aside. She glanced at her watch. Five more minutes to 12 pm. She waited till 12, so that Imran bhai would be on his way to the Corporation office to pay bills by then. When she was sure he had moved out, she entered the apartment complex. Avoiding the eyes of neighbours, she quickly slipped into her apartment and locked the front door from inside. Anindita preferred to keep a low profile in the social circle in the apartment complex too. She seldom attended events there, and neither did she take part in chit-chat sessions. Poor Apu bore the brunt of his mother’s elusive attitude, and he too was shunned by the other children in that complex. He kept to himself and played with Imran bhai and Zareena only, when Anu was not around. The elderly couple seemed to forget their age and health troubles when he was with them.
Anindita had just 3 more hours till Apu came back from school. Even if she swallowed the entire strip of the drug, it would take some time to act. She wasn’t sure how much time, but she was sure that an overdose could be quickly fatal. She would cook one last meal for her sweet little boy – his favourite Spaghetti Bolognese with shredded chicken in white sauce. She often felt guilty that she couldn’t devote much time to pamper the little boy whenever he needed it the most. Let this meal be some kind of an apology to him, she thought. After that, she would wash the clothes, clean the apartment, take a bath and dress in her best. She knew quite well that Apu would be one among the first to see her body, and she didn’t want him to see her in a disheveled state. Poor Apu! Who would take care of him when she’s gone? Zareena? For how long? Till Imran bhai was able to work? Would the money from her benefits schemes be enough till he came up to age, and till he could take care of himself?
She didn’t know. She didn’t want to think. These thoughts shouldn’t be nurtured, she admonished herself. She knew quite well that they could kill her drive – to take her own life. She had arrived at that decision earlier that morning in the Counsellor’s office, without much pre-meditation. When, after eight years of blissful marriage, and four years of painful separation, the person whom she’d loved more than anything in this world, more than herself, and even more than Apu, had said nonchalantly to her face: “I don’t want to see you again, ever in my life.” She had stared for long at Biswas’ face after he uttered those words. He returned her stare, as if he meant every word he had said. Not even a wink. She had made the decision then. He wouldn’t see Anindita again, ever.
Of course, it was an impulsive decision. But then, how could Biswas change so much? From the person, who’d defied his family and the entire world to be with her, Biswas had turned a total stranger, who had the impudence to cast her and Apu away, like used tissue papers!
Four years ago, on that fateful day, Anindita had just confirmed that her pregnancy test showed positive result, and had been trying to reach Bichchu to share the most important news with her beloved. His phone was busy for quite some time, and when he finally rang back, he had bad news to tell her – his dad had passed away. He seemed consumed by the grief that he couldn’t be with the old man when he breathed his last, even though they lived in the same city. At that point, Anu chose to reveal the news of her conception to him later on. After the last rites were performed, Biswas chose to stay back for a few more days with his mom and sister at his parents’ place, while Anindita came back to the apartment. Little did she suspect that Biswas could turn a total stranger in those very few days. He never came back to the apartment. He avoided her phone calls, and refused to meet her. Tara tried to meet him several times, but he just wouldn’t allow her too. Shockingly, Anindita realized that her Bichchu was drifting apart.
However hard she thought, she couldn’t make head or tail of the sudden change in Biswas’ attitude towards her. Time proved Tara’s ‘the other woman’ theory wrong. Anu was quite sure that she would’ve known if Biswas was involved with another woman. She knew him so well. Or so she thought. Moreover, Biswas had remained single all through the last four years. She got information about his whereabouts from mutual friends. But that was all – she couldn’t get to know any more. Apparently, Bichchu had closed himself towards all his friends, or maybe they weren’t willing to tell her anything about him.
Only Tara was with her throughout the pregnancy period, and through the pain. But Anu was ready to forgive Bichchu for all that – she just wanted him back, and the family picture to be complete. She had emailed him the pictures of Aprameya when he was born, with so much of hope that the photos would melt the ice in Bichchu’s heart and win him over again for her. Alarmingly, there still was no response. In a fit of rage, she had told Tara that she didn’t want to carry the coffin of the dead relationship anymore. Tara set the divorce ball rolling, and much like several other impulsive decisions, Anu regretted this too, immediately after. Biswas never appeared for any of the court hearings and counselling sessions and today’s was supposed to be the final warning for him to appear before the Counsellor. Anindita had emailed him several times in the meanwhile, with pictures of Apu on all his birthdays, hoping against hope. It was the sheer indifference from Biswas all these years that made the entire episode so painful to digest for Anu. Even today, she had hoped that when he finally saw her after so many days, he would forget all differences and come running to her. Instead, his only words during the session “I don’t want to see you again, ever in my life,” filled her ears and heart like molten lava. She never heard anything more. She had made up her mind, and readied herself for the tough decision.
If throwing away his own life was so easy for Biswas, then it should be easy for Anu too. And she was going to throw it away that very day. If ending her existence was the only way he could gain peace of mind, then she was going to gift her life to him on a platter.
By the time she had finished cooking Apu’s meal, cleaning up and her bath, it was already 1.30 pm. She took a minute to catch her breath, and sank into the sofa, with the strips of the tablets and a jug of water. It should look as though she was resting on the couch. That’s the way it should end. No violent methods, she had decided.
Now that Biswas doesn’t need her any more, would anyone cry for her when they knew she’d gone? Parents? Mom, may be, because she would call once in a while when dad was not around. She wanted to see her grandson badly, but dad would never allow her to come down to Bangalore. Anindita wanted to talk to her mom one final time, but then she wasn’t sure. What if mom caught a whiff of her intention? She might. Would dad cry? She wasn’t sure. Dad was never an expressive person, when it came to emotions. In fact, he was hardly there, through their formative years at Guwahati. She wouldn’t have thirsted so much for fatherly love and care, if he did. That was exactly the space Biswas had filled so snugly all through the years they were together.
Tears welled her eyes when she thought of her Bichchu. Why, why…wouldn’t he want me back? Would he grieve when he knew? Sure, he would. If he was the person she knew once, she was sure he wouldn’t be able to survive the shock. She wasn’t sure now. Would he marry again, now that Anu was out of his way? He might. But then, wouldn’t he be reminded of the times Anu was with him, when he got intimate with the new woman?
When Anindita felt emotions were about to conquer her decision, she veered off to Tara. Would she cry? Given her tough outlook, she might be quite hesitant to part with tears, she thought. And that thought mildly amused her, even between tears.
What would Gaurav dada do? He might be furious at Bichchu, as he always had been. Well, anyway, she won’t be around to see all that. She stumbled upon the next big question – what will happen to her innocent little boy? He might be able to forgive her when he is big enough to understand, she thought. Then she swallowed the entire strip of Telday-80 tablets one by one. She had hardly taken one big swig from the jug, when he heard a familiar horn at the gate. She peeped through the window and saw to her shock that the school bus had arrived early! It was only 2.30 pm. And Imran bhai wouldn’t be back till at least 3. Since they were early, the bus driver had dropped Apu off at the apartment gate instead of the bus stop.
As she watched, her dearest little Aprameya walked down the driveway. He had a yellow smiley-faced stress ball in his hand. Poor guy! May you find happiness in your life, the mom blessed him from afar. At that moment, the ball slipped from his hands and bounced over the driveway towards the flank of the apartment complex. As Apu ran over the iron grating of the sewerage sump, he tripped and fell. Crying aloud, he tried to get up, but his little feet were stuck in the grating. Apu cried louder, his little face wincing in pain, “Mummeee….”
Anindita unlocked the front door, and rushed through the hallway. Suddenly, she felt dizzy, and her legs wobbled. She crossed the lobby, took five more steps out into the open, and collapsed. She shouted, “Apu, dear, please don’t cry. Mummy’s coming…” But her voice never came out of her throat, and she clutched her neck as she choked. She felt her nerves tighten, her head becoming heavy, and her limbs go numb.
Through the corner of her eye, she saw Zareena running towards her, and then she blacked out.