Prof (Dr) Viyatprajna Acharya
Sandhya stood by her bedroom window and was lost in the far horizon. The sun was about to set and sprinkled the rays of orange and red like a spoilt rangoli on the floor. Birds were returning to their nests. To a poet’s eyes, the scenic beauty was enough to entice him/her to pen down few poetic verses yet know not why, the scenic view as if reflected Sandhya’s bleeding heart and made her even more depressed.
She reflected back on her life…why, she had achieved everything in life in perfect proportion! Since childhood she was a bright student and cracked medical entrance and is now a successful Microbiologist. She has been successfully married to Siddhant, who works as a senior executive in an MNC for past 18 years with two beautiful kids, one 15-year-old daughter, the other 13-year-old son. Prosperity kisses their feet. To have a harmonious life, she wakes up at 4am in the morning every day, bows at the pedestal of the trinity and swiftly finishes all the chores, sends the kids and her husband to school and office and heads to her workplace. She balances her work life and family life very adeptly and has been lauded innumerable times, some even envy her. She eavesdrops everything but with a smile dismisses it all to work with equanimity of mind.
A sad Sandhya turned towards her dressing mirror. After a long time, she looked at herself in the mirror. Astonishingly, she had developed a few streaks of grey hairs shining like arborising lightning amidst a thick black cloud. She’s recently turned 41…Wow! She never stopped a while to reflect on her journey even! Siddhant is 5 years elder to her…yet how can he get involved with a girl half of his age!! Shit! The moment she recalled the entire incident described by her friend and confidante Aparajita, she felt very weak and desperate, a shiver of hatred spread through her.
She had lost both her parents long back on whom she mostly leaned on at such occasions. She felt like crying out aloud, but was afraid to disturb her kids who were studying in the other room. She felt very desperate. Usually, she played the role of agony aunt for everybody, but today whom she can turn to seek help! She looked at the rounded eyes of Lord Jagannath and tears started rolling down incessantly.
Aparajita said that Siddhant is being seen with a colleague named Rashmi of his office very frequently in different public places and hence she thought to put a word of caution to Sandhya. Sandhya’s mind was filled with anger, anguish, hatred, jealousy, lack of trust….altogether, yet somewhere her heart told her not to believe all these. But Aparajita had been a very close friend to her for years and she has affirmed with evidence.
Sandhya looked at herself in the mirror again. Yes, amidst juggling multiple roles, she has forgotten to take care of herself. Love handles have been added, ten kgs have been added since her marriage days. But is it only about physical appearance in a relationship! Didn’t her commitments, sacrifices mean anything! “No, I can’t accept that it is my fault. I can’t demean myself. It is Siddhant who is at fault.” She almost told aloud to herself.
She has been always a fighter and had overcome all problems in life. In school days, someone taunted her of stammering once. She took it as a challenge and not just got over stammering, but bagged the first prize in debate competition. At the age of 38, she went to reach up to Everest base camp and returned victorious.
She never doubted her husband even a bit and had been deeply engrossed in raising the kids, looking after the in-laws, working hard to maintain her professional success too and never ever thought she lacked in any aspect so as Siddhant can get distracted from her warm cocoon. Why, she has been also surrounded by so many male colleagues, some caring, some advancing, yet she never felt a tug for anyone…then why Siddhant!
She pulled herself and started thinking how to deal with this new challenge. Her face stiffened, silenced and then glowed in determination; altogether a play of emotions that matched with the pace of her thoughts. Challenges in life have given her always an impact of that like a stone kept in the flowing stream and the stream jumps off high to overcome the obstacle.
“Well, Siddhant, here I come”, said to herself and proceeded for evening Puja.
But before taking any such step, she wanted to verify the facts by herself and followed Siddhant everywhere he went and to her dismay, whatever Aparajita said was true. Rashmi had joined his office 3-4 months back. The affair has culminated in bed too.
“Aah, now I understand the reason for late night client meetings! Such a fool I am!” Tears welled up in her eyes but she tilted her head back and sucked them into the nasal path. “For whom am I shedding tears! Traitor! You’ll definitely get punished for your bad karmas.” As if she emanated fire instead of tears from her eyes.
On Sunday, Siddhant started from home in the morning at about 11 o’clock saying that he has a client meeting and will have lunch outside. Sandhya had exchanged her car with that of Aparajita’s and started following him. Oblivious of the fact, Siddhant drove in to the outskirts of the city and reached at a large resort. He wore a crisp white cotton shirt with a khaki pant which suited him a lot and he climbed the stairs like a fawn leaving behind the smell of Calvin Klein perfume.
Sandhya had worn some unusual beach wears and had a hat and had her sunglasses on, which made her look quite different. She occupied the table just behind Siddhant and casually surfed the mobile and ordered for a juice. Her eyes were stuck on Rashmi. She was strikingly beautiful and had entered the dining hall with the room pass key dangling alongside.
“Oh! So, the rendezvous is here! How gullible Siddhant has taken her to be! Just because she is too engrossed in work and family, he’ll take advantage of the situation thus! Disgusting!” But instead of crying or quitting the place, she had to swallow the poison and wait for the right moment.
When Siddhant got up for washroom, quickly Sandhya took his seat as soon as he was out of sight. There was not much time for her.
She took off her sunglasses and asked Rashmi, “Are you Rashmi?” Rashmi jolted in surprise.
Rashmi asked, “Why, yes! How do you know me?”
“That’s not important. Tomorrow, I’ll meet you here at 5 o’clock in the evening. It is best not to discuss about it with anyone. You need to know a lot of things about Siddhant.”
Sandhya immediately left that resort and returned home. After lunch she stepped into a place where she had not visited long since. “Saloni beauty Salon”- she read the board and entered awkwardly. Next four hours she surrendered herself to the beauticians and got a complete makeover. All these years, probably she had been too harsh to herself and had not taken care of her own self. Looking at Rashmi she felt bit jealous within but well, she is just a kid! She purchased a lot of things for herself and kids and returned home. Kids were more than happy.
Siddhant had not returned till then. When he returned home, he looked tired and went to bed immediately. Though he found Sandhya in her new avatar, didn’t pay much heed. Sandhya felt a surge of anger from within, but controlled herself.
Next day Sandhya and Rashmi sat on the same table of the resort. Sandhya ordered for two coffees. She noticed a new smartphone in Rashmi’s hands and a diamond bracelet sparkling on her wrist.
She thought to herself, “Isn’t this the one I had lost quite some time ago and was blaming the maid in my mind?” Thankfully, she had not brought in the issue directly with the maid or else she would have lost face before the poor lady. Now she knew where it has made its way.
Leaving the issue aside she asked, “Are you in love with Siddhant?”
Rashmi smiled sheepishly and affirmed. But then she asked, “Who are you? And why are you asking all these to me?”
“Since how long you both know each other? Do you know that he is a married person with two grown up kids?”
“Well…..a little bit I knew. He said that his wife is a psychotic and is undergoing treatment.” Now Sandhya was looking straight into Rashmi’s eyes and she shivered with that cold stare. Sandhya thought inside, “Either this girl is a gold-digger or too gullible who has fallen into the trap of Siddhant’s charm. Or she might be misconstruing the fatherly love as the love between a man and woman. Whatever it is, that is none of her business to understand their relationship. She must make things straight now.”
“Has Siddhant promised to marry you too?”
“Well, not exactly. Actually, we are in a kind of live-in relationship and trying to know each other and it is okay if we do not get compatible and part ways. He is a nice chap and tries to keep me happy all the time.”
“Oh God! Where the society has come down to! This girl is not at all gullible, she is just over-smart and spoilt girl.
Rashmi suddenly asked, “ But who are you and why are you asking such questions?”
“Me? Well, I am Sandhya, his wife. The same psychotic one.” Sandhya laughed aloud.
“In fact, Dr. Sandhya.”
After that they both chit-chatted for an hour and Sandhya left the resort with a victorious smile and left behind a brooding and frightened Rashmi at the resort.
Sandhya had engaged Siddhant in picking up the kids from school taking plea of a conference and hence was sure that her meeting with Rashmi would go on smoothly.
Next day evening when Siddhant returned home, he looked a bit perplexed and sad deep within. The agony increased subsequent days and gradually he became very irritated and retorted very badly to whatever he was asked. Sandhya was observing the change and was trying to guess the reason but stayed calm and composed.
Few days later, Siddhant caught a cold and later fever followed. She took good care of Siddhant and smiled within sarcastically. “Now you will understand the difference between a true and fake relationship, Mr. Siddhant.” She said to herself silently.
Ever a devout wife, she took good care of Siddhant and started antibiotics for him immediately. But after fourth day also when fever didn’t come down, she had to take a blood sample for analysis to her own lab. Evening when she returned, she looked pretty disturbed and took another blood sample from Siddhant.
Next day she came home bit early and sat near Siddhant. Today the fever had come down but Siddhant was having loose motions. He enquired sweetly, “What is it, Sandhya? Malaria or typhoid?” On seeing her fall silent, he asked, “Is there anything serious, dear?”
In past few days of proximity, Sandhya was finding her old Siddhant back. With much pain she found her voice. She mumbled, “Had you taken any injection or donated blood or any kind of contamination can you think of?”
Siddhant sat up and asked, “Why? Is it Hepatitis B?”
Sandhya’s eyes were filled with tears. “Siddhant, you have got AIDS. To confirm I have tested your blood twice and also tested mine. How is it possible?”
She added, “Siddhant….are you in any relationship….by any chance?”
To this Siddhant shouted in high pitch, “What are you saying Sandhya? This might be due to the blood donation that was conducted in our office long back. I never ever looked at any other girl other than you!”
“I am so sorry Siddhant. I never had a doubt on you but just asked like that. It must have been due to that blood donation program. Somehow, some contamination has occurred.”
Sandhya felt like screaming aloud, “You cheat, you liar! How can be such a scoundrel! You have never donated a pint of blood till date. Whom are you fooling!”
But she stayed calm and sat near him and held his hands and assured that it’s a battle that has to be fought by both of them.
Thereafter, everyday something or the other happened to Siddhant. Either it was a cold, a fever or cough. Within 15 days he lost almost 7 kgs. His eyes were hollowed. Sandhya took all possible care and kept on working in her usual pace and didn’t let the kids know about Siddhant’s illness. She couldn’t share it with anyone either as AIDS is a taboo in the society and they may be estranged by the society. Siddhant kept on extending his leaves.
“Siddhant, how many times I should ask not to surf about the disease? You’ll be fine soon. I have asked for good medications after consulting a few friends of mine. You just keep calm and stay positive.” Sandhya chided mildly.
“That’s what! I don’t want to stay positive. Not as an AIDS positive! Siddhant screamed and cried like a child.
Next day Sandhya came and started chit-chatting with Siddhant. Siddhant seemed to be in a better mood today. Casually, she mentioned how a girl named Rashmi had come to her STD clinic today and has been diagnosed with AIDS. “Disgusting! She has admitted herself that she had multiple partners. What kind of “Rashmi” (light rays) she would have spread to all those partners and to their families, God only knows. God save them all.
Siddhant asked about features about the girl. Sandhya asked whether he knew the girl but soon Siddhant said, “Actually, one such girl worked in our office but now she has quit the job. I had seen her once or twice.”
Though Siddhant tried to stay calm, something was tormenting him inside but there was none to share his feelings. Seeing the dazzling vermillion bindi on Sandhya’s forehead he felt so weak within. “Do I really deserve all these service and love from Sandhya? How do I disclose the truth to her? Can I even tell her till my last breath? Last breath….yes, that is the only way out now. I have to finish off myself. I can’t seek forgiveness, neither I deserve any forgiveness from Sandhya.”
One afternoon, Siddhant had severe stomach ache and after almost half an hour he decided that today it should all end. He found the sleeping pills and started taking a handful of them. He stared at them for a long while, wrote a suicide note and started gulping one after another tablet. Just then Sandhya barged in and threw the bottle from his hands and said, “Can’t you even think what would have happened to the kids! Forget about myself. We are fighting this battle together, right? Then why did you do this to yourself?” all this while she was crying bitterly.
She made Siddhant vomit with supersaturated saline water and made him lie down.
Siddhant started crying inconsolably and said, “Sandhya, I do not deserve your forgiveness. I have cheated on you. You are a doctor. Give me death instantly. I cannot die with this disease every day.” Then he divulged the entire story before her.
Sandhya stood up and wiped her tears keeping her back to Siddhant.
Siddhant kept on pleading, “Please give me instant death, you can.”
Sandhya turned to face him and with a stern face she said, “Why the hurry! You have entire life to live. For your information, let me tell you that you do not have AIDS. You never had actually.”
“What!!!” Siddhant stood up with a jolt. “Then what about the report, the fever, cough, weakness, loose motions?”
“Well, what began with a viral fever, I maintained it with a drug that you are allergic. And it was partly due to your guilty feeling too. I knew everything about Rashmi in detail. What you told me is just a stale story.”
Siddhant could not bat an eyelid even. He was ferocious, he was full of gratitude also, he felt guilty within and felt angry with Sandhya for breaching his trust.
“How could you do this? You are a doctor, right?” he demanded Sandhya an answer.
“And what about you? Everything was fair for you. You are a husband and father to two kids. We have some social status; didn’t you even think that you were going to be the talk of town. What was my fault Siddhant? Just because I prioritized well-being of the family, you felt bored in less than 20 years conjugal life! Is this all about our relationship Siddhant?” Sandhya burst into tears.
Siddhant asked, “Then Rashmi’s story about having AIDS? What did you do to her? Is she ok?”
“Oh! How concerned!” She flung a sarcastic smile. “Couldn’t you understand that she was a gold-digger! I just told her that I know innumerable ways to make an unnatural death look like a normal one. She has to vanish into thin air right away. And I confiscated my diamond bracelet and the new smartphone that you gifted her. I was enjoying all your concerned messages for her all this while. Take it.” She threw the smartphone on his bed.
Siddhant was also in tears. He knelt on the floor and asked for forgiveness. “Sandhya, please forgive me. Unless until you forgive me, I will be dying even after knowing to be disease-free.”
“Oh, really! Do I really have the power to forgive even? I am a mere woman who has to slug like a slave day in and day out for the husband, for the kids, for the in-laws, trying to please everyone forgetting my own self.”
“Please do not say like that. You are epitome of kindness.” begged Siddhant.
“You were my entire world Siddhant. You might be thinking how I reached just in time. I have planted CCTV cameras in your room and all this while I have never slept peacefully for a single night. Just in case you would have taken this drastic step.” Sandhya was wiping her tears violently. She was angry and as if splinters were coming out of her eyes and melting as tears.
Sandhya went on, “You have already suffered enough for your misdeed. Whether I forgive you or not, your karma has punished you enough. I didn’t want to create a scene by asking for a divorce or begging you to leave the girl. Probably, all this while we women have not gathered much of physical strength but with our intellect also, we can win a war.”
Siddhant still on his knees, thought to himself “The hands that rocks the cradle, rules the world.”
There was nothing more to be said or heard. Both were in tears. Siddhant was seeing the Mother divine in front of him, who gave birth to him, took care, gave him company, punished with fear of death and now granted his life back. He was overwhelmed with a play of emotions of gratitude, humility and surrender.
“You have killed the vices, the Asuras within me in the form of lust and greed.”
Unknowingly, he was chanting aloud “Ya devi sarbabhuteshu, shakti roopena sansthitaa, namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai Namonamah!
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