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Love, Shillong and Shiv

A Short Story - By Paulami Dutta 

I pasted the last bead on the dress and realized my back was hurting badly. This wedding was a special one, and I had really put in a lot of hard work into it.

Wedding seasons were strenuous but when I saw my dresses ready to be delivered all the pain would be forgotten. Setting up ‘Weddings’ wasn’t easy. But I had loved every part of it. And this little city had welcomed me with warmth.

I still remember the day when I had left Mumbai. Alone with some money and designs, I had taken the flight to Guwahati. The journey to Shillong wasn’t a pleasant one. I was stuck on the national highway for 3 long hours. I was already down and this added to my misery. But believe me the moment I saw a glimpse of the Umium Lake I knew this was my place. Shillong would be my nest. I had almost run away from the madness of big cities, run away in search of solitude. In just a couple of month’s I had wrapped up all that I had in Mumbai.  That was the only way I could survive, shut all the memories!

My neighbour Martha was the first person I had met in Shillong. She had come up with a casserole of chicken momos, and sealed our friendship forever. Her husband Carl and her baby girls were an absolute joy to be with. Soon I realized I was becoming a part of them, their society, their town.

The first time Martha had taken me to my ‘shop’ at Police Bazaar I was scared of my future. It was just a couple of vacant rooms and I was sure I could never make anything out of it. Bit by bit we settled on the decor and within a month ‘Weddings’ was ready to be opened.

Getting orders wasn’t easy. This town knew fashion very well. I had to start from scratch to convince them that I could do justice to their wedding gowns. The beginning was small but decent.

Today I have set up what I wanted, a house and a name for myself. But I still didn’t have a home. The memories kept coming back and take away all my happiness. His thoughts still made all the humiliation so much alive.Work was my only escape and I kept taking loads of it. ‘Weddings’ was never closed for orders.

Martha brought me an interesting order from a hotelier, a crazy man. I still can’t believe he wanted to finalize his best friend’s wedding lehenga. I had completed about 1200 contracts in Shillong and this sounded the craziest.

That morning wasn’t anything like I had planned. My laptop just decided to give away and I was left with only a dozen designs which lay abandoned in my pen drive. Cursing my luck I finally managed to get a taxi. And there again I sat caught in a traffic jam. Sometimes I felt Shillong has more cars than people. At times all we could see are the black and yellow Maruti 800 Taxis proudly ruling the city roads. When I reached my client’s hotel it was way past time. A whole fifteen minutes late.

I checked his card to memorise his name. A rather long and confusing one, Shiv Narayan Eric Gonsalves! His secretary showed me his room and when I entered this man was on the phone. He snapped his fingers and gestured me to sit. The man had class; his room was done with absolute finesse.

I was stunned when he finally decided to face me. He wasn’t the kind I had expected, not the eccentric looking Geek. He was almost my age, tall and had a noticeable scar on his right cheek. He had a ruthless charm about himself. I gulped and quickly apologised. “Mr. Gonsalves...I am sorry I got late.”
 “You can call me Shiv” he said with a warm smile.
 “Can you show me the designs?”  His voice was deep and made me nervous for a split second. I borrowed his laptop and showed him special designs I had made for his project.
    “You don’t have brochures?” What was the man thinking I was some stupid college girl trying to show him a semester project? I pulled my heavy album and proudly showed it to him.
    “The designs I showed you earlier were exclusive designs I made for your project Mr. Shiv.”
  “Miss Lavanya, Sunaina is my best buddy and I want the best for her wedding. I just wanted to see some of your work samples. I wanted designers from Delhi or Mumbai but Su says you are the best. So...” I wondered if he was criticising me or complimenting me. He kept saying how much he wanted designer brands and all and I sat quiet. He looked up at my almost expressionless face and said “emm Lavanya I am sorry if I offended you. Actually Su is really very dear to me. I mean no harm. I just want the best for her.” “Mr. Shiv , tell me something why on earth are you choosing her lehenga?” “Because Su wants me to” he said with a boyish smile. He checked my designs and selected six of them after two long hours. The man really knew how to spoil people.

Next was meeting Sunaina. She was a really sweet girl and so was her family. All of them seemed to look up to Shiv for little decisions. At times I was tempted to ask her if  Shiv was so fussy about everything. Shiv did everything possible to make my work difficult. I sometimes wondered how he knew so much about woman’s fashion.

Shiv was demanding. He never looked sideways. He never saw realism. He had weird demands about fabrics and zari. At times I wanted to just walk out of the contract.

But Shiv was of the old school of men. He would open doors and pull chairs. Made sure his employees were comfortable and spoke only when required.  He had this penetrating gaze which unsettled me at times. After two weeks or so I was sure I had a crush on Shiv. But then it wasn’t of any use. I couldn’t think about men. Not in this life time at least.

I didn’t see any of his family there. Maybe he was just as lonely as I was. But after Sunaina’s dresses were done there was no chance of meeting him. Believe me I felt a lump in my throat when he gave me the final cheque. I hadn’t expected the forty five days to get over so soon. I never attended any weddings and skipped Sunaina’s one as well. I dropped the cheque in the bank and realized Shiv was wishful thinking.

It was almost a month since Sunaina’s wedding. My assistant Rochelle told me that Shiv was buying another hotel at Tura. The man really understood business. I faked disinterestedness and continued to work on my dresses.
“Lavanya, Shiv...”
“Rochelle can we stop discussing old clients.”
“No harm in meeting them once in a while right?”
 I looked up shocked what was Shiv doing at ‘Weddings’?
“What are you doing here? Don’t tell me you have another wedding in your family.”
“Does your boss treat all her guests this way?” he asked Rochelle with a toothy grin. Before the girl started getting ideas I politely asked him to come to my office.
  “You vanished after the contract got over. Too busy eh?”
 “I had finished all my work Shiv.”
“I know but ... you didn’t call so I decided to come here. Can we at least have coffee together?” “Why?”
 “Because I like you Lavanya and would like to.....”
“Wasn’t that too cheesy?”
 “No this was just direct. And I guess Lavanya Singh likes bluntness. I could have asked you out earlier but I don’t like mixing business with personal matters” he said with a wink.

Shiv wasn’t as bad as I had thought. He had an interesting family. His mother was a Tamil Brahmin who had eloped with a Goan. Thus the name! They had come all the way to Shillong and set up a little hotel. According to Shiv his parents were the most romantic couple he had ever seen, they had happily passed the business to Shiv and retired to live in the Himalayas. Shiv loved his family, he was traditional in certain ways, was successful and charming, and hot beyond imagination. He was the perfect man any woman would look for.

And  as much as I hated I was in love with him. In love for the second time! I was addicted to Shiv. Shiv made me feel alive made me feel perfect. I wanted to get away from Shiv but couldn’t. He made me feel so special and I wanted to steal just a slice of life. But this moment would soon go away. Shiv would walk away when he knew the truth.

It was Christmas, a time when Shillong looks like a bride. It was filled with fun, lights, carols, Christmas trees, I so loved all of it. There was no way Shiv could make out of the hotel so he invited me there. I was startled to see the decor of their hotel had changed almost overnight. I could feel Christmas there. Shiv had something in his mind; there was a mischievous glint in his eyes.

He guided me to a table and said, “I guess you might get another contract.”
“Lavanya I have marriage in mind.”
 Of course he would get married at some point; I force a smile and congratulated him.
 “Hey not now, you still haven’t said yes to me Lavanya.”

Shiv wanted to marry me. For a split second I was in another world. I would have said yes if I hadn’t seen him. Seated about two tables away was my ex husband Yash with his family. All the hurt and humiliation came alive and I walked out without even looking back at Shiv.

I heard Shiv call my name but I doubled my steps and kept walking. I didn’t want him to know and start hating me. I didn’t want him to say I was ugly; I didn’t want him to say all that Yash had said four years back.

I somehow came back home and sat cold and numb. Shiv continued calling me and frustrated I threw it away. About midnight I heard my doorbell. I knew it was Shiv. But I couldn’t let him wait outside, Shillong was freezing.
    “Why did you leave Lavanya?”
As always Shiv was blunt, to the point.
 “Shiv we have nothing to talk about. I ....”
 “I am freezing let me in at least.”
I was losing; Shiv knew how much I desired him and he would make the most of it.

He quietly entered and made himself comfortable and said, “what is it Lavanya? I want to know everything. You just can’t shut me without a reason.”
“Shiv I just don’t want to get married. I am commitment phobic I...”
“I want the truth Lavanya. Don’t try and pretend with me.”
He pulled me closer and made me face him, “please don’t do this to us Lavanya.”

I had locked up all the tears for four long years and all of it came back. I broke down, remembering each and every bitter moment of my life.  Shiv held me in his strong embrace and kept cradling me.
 “Did I hurt you Lavanya?” he said planting soft kisses on my head.
“Shiv we aren’t meant to be. You have no idea about my past.”
“Everyone here knows you have a past Lavanya. Something you want to forget at any cost. Why else would you come to this corner of the country? But you know Lavanya my Mamma says the only thing matters is the present.”
“Shiv I....”

He didn’t force me, he just held me till the time I was ready to speak.
 “Shiv the Lavanya you see now is not what I was when I left Mumbai. I got a degree in fashion designing and got married to my childhood sweetheart Yash.”
 I thought Shiv would react; he did but with a reassuring hug.
“Yash was crazy about me. I was so happy in our little home that I didn’t even pursue my career. The first two years was like a fairytale. And then...”
“He was seeing someone else?”
 Shiv looked like a protective lover. I held on to him to get some warmth, the moment would be gone soon.
 “It wasn’t so easy Shiv, there was no one between us. I fell ill.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
“Lavanya...” Shiv was panic stricken.
“Lavanya lets discuss all of it later. You need to rest.”
“No Shiv I am okay. I guess it’s time for you leave.”
“Lavanya how does this affect our relationship?”
Now how would I tell him? I thought he would understand and I could stop without getting into the details.
   “Shiv don’t you understand? I am imperfect.”
“What rubbish Lavanya? Hundreds of cancer survivors start a new life. And you started one is absolute style. You must be an inspiration for hundreds of women who suffer from breast cancer.”
Damn Shiv, was he really this naive?
“And Lavanya don’t tell me you belong to the school of thought which says divorcees are fallen people.”
“Damn you Shiv the doctors had to amputate my right breast. I wear these artificial....”

I wanted to stay strong but I broke down. The doctors said that was the only way to save my life. Yash seemed withdrawn since the time I got cancer. I thought it was because of the financial and emotional strain. Until that night when he said I looked ugly, I looked unwomanly. He couldn’t even think about making love to me. Yash wanted divorce. He walked out on me leaving me alone and tattered. How could I think about love and marriage with Shiv? The scars were too deep. I didn’t feel like a cancer survivor. Yash made me feel guilty made me feel disfigured.

This Short story  continued here....