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Short Story by Ashutosh Menon


"Laxmi Colony, Seema Building, 18th Road," I gasped to the auto rikshaw driver.
"Haa Saab," he replied.
This was Aditi's house address in Sindhi Camp. I loved her from the bottom of my heart. My first & last love. For her sake, I had secured a government job. For whom I was alive. And got the motivation from to get out of bed every morning.

Aditi's father had kept a stern condition that he will marry off his pretty daughter only to a boy having a reliable government job. Hence she had cut all ties with me until I become a potential groom in the eyes of her family. Her father Paresh Uncle, had bluntly warned me to return and ask for Aditi's hand in marriage only after proving something in life. Or never show my beautiful face ever again.

Paresh Uncle was a real terror. He regarded me like a cockroach on whom immediate pest control should be done. I still recollect his harsh words uttered to me "Mr. Brijesh Singh, look, what will you feed my daughter? How will you take care of even her basic makeup,  being an unemployed?  We will give Aditi’s hand in marriage only to a government executive who is well settled and has a sound future." 

This and all the other insults thrown at me were still fresh and chiming in my head. Only a single thought presented me some solace that Aditi’s mother Disha Aunty was much more warm-hearted and welcoming.

But indirectly Aditi had motivated an ambitionless person like me achieve something significant in life. She had been a blessing in disguise. That day I had challenged Paresh uncle that I will prove to him that I am also valuable.

I was going to get together with Aditi after a wait of 3 long years. Only I know how I survived these never ending years without Aditi. An icy shiver of exhilaration ran down my spine with this thought.
Today morning I have been selected finally for this coveted government job. The appointment letter from the esteemed RCF Ltd. was carefully hidden in my file like the Kohinoor diamond. This was the life I had always dreamt of. At last I have fulfilled the conditions stipulated by Aditi's father. 

Aditi was my college classmate, sweetheart and half girlfriend. The other half was left upon me to complete by becoming someone worthwhile in life. In college we were an inseparable couple. We had envisioned to build a prosperous future working shoulder to shoulder. We had already engraved ourselves as man and wife in our souls. That Sindhi beauty and elegance of Aditi which had left the whole college spellbound, I was longing to see once again.

"Bas Bhayia," I told the auto driver, shoving a 100 rupee note into his hands.

I jumped out of the moving auto and ran into the compound. I did not collect the change for the first time in my life. But that loss of a few rupees was not enough to pull down my delight today. The auto driver must have thought that I am a filthy rich customer. But for your kind information it is not true. I stand and fight for every rightful rupee I own. I am a man who even commands a toffee as exchange from the grocer if he is short of even 1 rupee. You may call me a shameless miser but that’s who I'm in actuality. I say I value money. I live by the philosophy that a penny saved is a penny earned. But today was something different. I was going to win my beloved.

"Aditi......Paresh Uncle.......Aditi," I had begun howling from the society gate itself.

Aditi lived on the 1st floor. I somehow managed to ascend the stairs with my body shaking with excitement. I was saved from almost stumbling and falling down the stairs back to square one like in the snake & ladder game.
"Aditi’s door was locked!!! "

My desperate screams for Aditi had brought out the residents of the entire building from their homes. I had destroyed the entire peace and tranquility of the housing society in just a few seconds.
"Who are you?" questioned an old man.

" What do you want?" asked another burly person.
"Aditi Malukani...... Paresh Uncle is not at home," I enquired panting for air. 
"They have relocated,” said a resident.
"Aditi is in her husband’s house!!!" said another croaky voice.
This sentence struck me like a meteorite from outer space.


"Aditi is already MARRIED???" what a foolish question I asked, when they were saying that Aditi has shifted to her husband’s house.
"Yes, but who are you?" said someone.
I couldn’t believe my ears.

I felt a growing pain in my chest on hearing this. How could Aditi marry? How could she betray me?  When she had promised to wait for me? How could she dump me like this mid-way in life? Paresh Uncle must have done this....... My head was spinning like a merry go round. It was even becoming hard to breath. I started feeling weak in my knees with fear and anxiety. I somehow maintained my equilibrium and sat down on the stairway itself. The spectators who had gathered around me must have thought that I am high. I am some Bewda.

One humane aunty brought me a glass of water. Now I was feeling a bit better after drinking the water. My throat which had become as dry as the Thar desert cleared up.

I asked in a feeble tone, "Any idea where is Aditi now?"
One good-natured aunty helped me the new address of Aditi's husbands house.

All was lost. A feeling of deep sadness engulfed my soul. Yet I had to find out why my only love had left me? Was she pressured to do so by her family like earlier? I ought to know was is my mistake?
I hailed another autorikshaw at once in my conquest to get to Aditi’s husbands dreaded house. I was not crying. Why should I cry for Aditi if she does not want me? But by now tears were rolling down my cheeks. I had no control over them. Yet I was not crying. I’m no crybaby. I’m a strong man.  Only my eyes were crying. For whom was this job in RCF? To prove to whole now? Why was I even alive?
             

 **


I arrived at the given address. But this time, All the pleasure and the cloud nine feeling had drained out in a fizzle.
Now I treaded with caution. Taking every step as though I was navigating a landmine filled field.

I was feeling powerless, vulnerable and exposed. Like a failure of the millennium.
" Now how will I introduce myself to Aditi’s in laws?"
" What will I say if her husband confronts me?" All these questions were bothering me. 

Yet I had every right to know the truth behind my lost love. For whom I had struggled so hard and accomplished so much.
I rang the doorbell and waited patiently for the devil to open the door of hell.

An old lady, maybe in her 60's, opened the door.
Mustering some courage, I murmured "Aditi?"
Then the unexpected happened. The devil was real. The old lady suddenly turned into a witch. She started abusing me left, right and center. This She-Devil sprang into the air to catch hold of my neck and strangulate me. Her punch just missing my face by mere inches.
Somehow I managed to run for my dear life before she could grab me.

Now the mystery had gotten even darker. Why did this old lady try to assault me on hearing Aditi's name? What had happened to my Aditi? My resolve to find the truth of my true love only grew stronger with this.

I gathered my nerves and rang the doorbell once again. This time I was more alert and ready to face the mad bull expected to run out through the doors. As expected this time the old lady chased me away with a kitchen knife. She threatened to stab and kill me if I ever came back. However, I escaped as I was more prepared for the consequences this time.
Finally, after a few more attempts and conflicts with this old dame I called it a day.

I returned home a loser even though I had won the much cherished government job today.
"But where is Aditi? What had happened to her? Where is Paresh Uncle & Disha aunty? Where is her family? What had this mental lady done to my poor Aditi?" all these questions kept me awake night long.

The next day I thought of contacting Aditi through the electronic medium. I had saved all her and Paresh uncles mobile phone numbers, Whats App details, Email Id, Facebook, Instagram contacts etc. But I had not used the same to communicate with her for the past 3 years being sincere to my commitment. But regrettably all these contact details were either changed or went unanswered or were unavailable. I even got in touch with some of our old common college mates to know about Aditi’s current whereabouts but none of them seem to have any valuable information about Aditi. Most of them had gotten over the mesmerizing beauty of Aditi and moved on in life by now. I had to now fight my own battle alone. Only I seem stuck in the past with Aditi now.

I again went the next day to try and meet this aggressive old lady and get something out of her about Aditi, as this was the only lead I had.
I rang the doorbell with little expectation this time. Should have brought my Greek armor dress along. My heart was also pounding with fear for my physical safety. I was confident of being beheaded today. But I had to do it for my Aditi.
But this time, to my surprise a young woman opened the door.
"Madam I wanted to meet Aditi," I said, putting up a brave face.
"There is no Aditi here," said the woman and slammed the door on my face.
At least she had not tried to murder me like that mad old lady coming out of the same door of death. I felt a bit more confident now seeing the semi civilized behavior of the young woman and rang the doorbell once again expecting the worse.
The same young woman opened the door.
This time I spoke all the details quickly in a single breath before she bangs the door shut,"Madam I’m an old friend of Aditi. Please help me find her. It’s very urgent".

She was very annoyed. But still directed me to take a phone number and try on the same.
She also forewarned me never to come back here ever again searching for Aditi if I wished for my own well-being. Never to disturb them again. I took down the mobile number and left without a word.

I went out of the building onto the main road and instantly dialed this new number given. Even True caller could not identify this number.
But at least the number was in working condition and ringing. With ever ring my blood pressure was rising. A woman picked up the call.
"Hello, Hello, can I speak to Aditi," I requested filled with hope.
"No Aditi is not there, who's this? " asked the woman.
I was satisfied that at least the woman at the other end is willing to speak and responding positively.
"My name is Brijesh Singh. I'm an old college friend of Aditi Madam" I said keeping some formality in the conversation.


" Oh Brijesh!" Exclaimed the woman at the other side. These words of recognition itself gave me back my lost pulse.
" I'm Disha, Aditi’s mother. How are you Brijesh?"
"Disha Aunty, where is Aditi?" I blurted out into the phone, even forgetting my basic manners to wish Disha aunty first.
"Brijesh, come and meet me tomorrow " Disha aunty said giving me her address.
" I'll come now itself aunty," I said unable to control my excitement.
But Disha aunty had already hung up the phone on me by then.

                                              **

I had not been able to even catch a forty winks of sleep last night thinking about Aditi and what I was going to speak to her tomorrow morning and what will be her reaction on the same. Finally, the long and tiring never ending night had passed and it was day break.

Every second had felt like eternity. Even the bloody wall clock was playing games on me and not ticking on purpose. Sunrise greeted me at last. This never ending wait had finally paid off. At last I was going to be reunited with my love.

I immediately leaped out of my soft and cozy bed which had felt like a bed of thorns last night. Took a quick shower and hailed an autorikshaw to Mohammad Chawl, Kurla as per Disha Aunty's given address.

The address looked very strange as what an affluent Aditi was doing living in a chawl now? Anyway all that did not matter, at least I am going to meet my love. I am ready to accept her wholeheartedly in whatever condition she may be.

I reached Mohammad Chawl early morning itself. It was just 6.00am. The women of the chawl were filling their drums with water from the common municipal taps on the roadside and performing various household chores like cooking, washing utensils, washing clothes etc. The men and children were bathing on the pavement itself. The environment was very dingy and unhygienic. The stench of feces emanating from the gutters was unbearable.

However, I ignored all these shortcomings as I had no time to look for flaws in love. I just wanted to get back together with my dear Aditi. I reached Mohammad Chawl and knocked on room no 21.

A thin ailing elderly lady opened the door and greeted me.
" Brijesh, you are already here so early?" said the lady.
Yes, but how did she know my name? How did she recognize me? Hadn’t we met for the first time?
"Brijesh, I’m Disha, Aditi's mother" said the grey haired lady.
I was dumbfounded. Disha Aunty!!! In this condition? You have become so old and frail. In just 3 years how much you have changed aunty? You have aged 30 years in just 3 years? What has happened? Disha aunty was a mere shadow of her former healthy self.

"Pranam Aunty, where is Aditi? How is Paresh Uncle?" I probed impatiently.
"Have some tea, Brijesh, calm down, let’s talk", said Disha aunty with a depressed tone.

I had many many unending questions to ask Disha aunty. Where is Aditi? How is she? Is she really married? Why do the women in the other house who claim to be her in-laws misbehave with me on hearing Aditi’s name? Where is Paresh Uncle? Why are you living in this chawl? I now have a government job as per your demands. But I suppressed all my questions and just looked at Disha aunty’s expressionless face. I sensed that something was holding her back. Something just did not seem right. What was it?

Disha Aunty was finding it hard to start the conversation. Why Aunt?" So what’s all this aunty?" I asked breaking the long silence. We both were having just gazing into each other’s faces.


" Brijesh baba how do I tell you? What all happened after you were gone" cried Disha aunty. Her eyes were full of tears even before starting.
" What’s it aunty, please tell me, I am like your son. You know me very well. I will help solve all your problems," I said comforting Disha aunty.
"No No. Nothing can be solved now. Do you have the courage to hear what happened? " wept Disha aunty.

I nodded in acceptance. By now even my sixth sense was indicating that something untoward has happened. I was getting a strong feeling to burst into tears myself seeing Disha aunty sobbing un-controllably. But I somehow maintained my calm composure and acted being strong minded.
"Then listen my son," began Disha aunty. "As you know, Paresh uncle was determined to find only a government employed groom to marry Aditi. That’s why we rejected your proposal, and not because you were a bad guy or something else.

We put a paid VIP matrimonial advertisement on the famous matchmaking website for arranged marriages  asking for alliances only from well to do government servants for our beautiful daughter Aditi. After searching for a few weeks we shortlisted Arnav, a young boy from a middle class family. Arnav was a smart and handsome young lad. Moreover, he was employed with a semi government organization called Hindustan Minerals & Metals Ltd. He was working in the capacity of an accountant with the finance department of this company. Aditi also liked Arnav. He was earning a good salary package of about 5 lakhs per annum. Paresh uncle was also happy that his dream to find a government employed son in law was turning into a reality. Both our families met each other many times and fixed this marriage. Aditi was married off to Arnav with great pomp and grandeur. Arnav’s family was also very down to earth and never made any demands for dowry or put forth any preconditions on us. Arnav had a close knit family consisting of his father, mother and one younger unmarried sister - Shobana. Arnav’s family treated Aditi like their own daughter and not like a daughter in law come from a different home. Aditi was looked after like a princess by her in laws and was never forced to do anything she disliked.

All was going good for the first few months, but then Aditi  and Paresh uncle began to become unhappy with Arnav and his families’ simple lifestyle. Aditi had bigger hopes from a well-established husband. But Arnav and family were very frugal. Aditi wished to enjoy all the luxuries and opulence of modern day life like daily outings, movies in multiplexes, five-star hotel food, etc. Aditi became a purely materialistic girl and had many hidden goals to fulfill like an own bungalow, an army of servants, a fleet of luxury cars, regular foreign holidays, elite club memberships, parties, high flying social life etc.

Arnav could not fulfill all these expectations of Aditi withdrawing his meager salary being a public sector employee. Therefore, many unnecessary fights used to erupt between Aditi & Arnav over Aditi’s unrealistic dreams & demands. Now Aditi and us were not really fully satisfied with Arnav’s position in life. He had miserably fallen short of our expectations. We wanted a better life for Aditi. Not a penny pincher government employee like Arnav.

We had not yet pulled down our Ad on the matrimonial website. Aditi’s profile was still active on the website.

Suddenly out of the blue, one day we received an invite from a very high profile boy named Ramesh based in New York City, USA. Ramesh was working as a senior software consultant with the reputed computer technology major Dell Computer Corporation. Ramesh was not only well settled in life but also very wealthy. Ramesh had an annual salary package of about USD 1,50,000/- per annum which amounted to more than 1 crore per year in Indian rupees. We felt that this was the exact type of match that Aditi deserved. So we asked Aditi to leave Arnav and his family and return home immediately just three months into marriage. Aditi returned home at once and we consulted our advocate. As per the advocate's instructions we filed an FIR against Arnav and his family making up a false domestic violence and dowry harassment case. We also sent them a legal notice for divorce. This was the only way we could break off this below average marriage. Arnav and his family were arrested on the basis of our police complaint and found guilty by the court for the said crimes. They were sentenced to a one-year rigorous imprisonment term. This was only possible due to the cunningness of our advocate who managed to mislead the court convincingly. Aditi was also granted immediate divorce from Arnav by the court. Now Aditi was free as a bird and could chase her aspirations. “

How brazen! I thought. I did not expect Paresh uncle to stoop to such new lows. My respect for Paresh uncle was plummeting. How evil was this family? Was Aditi’s beauty only skin deep? Were even such pious relationships like marriage so trivial to her?

Now the pieces of the puzzle were falling in the right place. That woman who attacked me may have been Arnav’s mother. And the other young lady who provided me this cellphone number his sister Shobana. No wonder they hated even taking Aditi’s name so much. Poor things how much injustice have they been put through by Aditi’s opportunism.

Disha aunty continued the conversation with a cracking in her voice. "Ramesh came to India for a quick vacation. Ramesh and his family liked Aditi very much. We married off Aditi to Ramesh on an urgent basis as Ramesh had only a few days of leave. After marriage Aditi flew to New York along with her new husband to live her much fantasized American dream.

Meanwhile back here in India, Arnav’s father suddenly died of a heart attack in prison itself. He could not take the mental distress and heartbreak of how he and his family had been framed by us in a fake case and sent to jail for no wrong doing. We were also deeply hurt for falsely implicating such a loving family. But we also had no other way to break off this mediocre alliance. We comforted our conscience with the argument that this crime was committed by us for our Aditi’s bright future in USA. After completing the prison term of a year Arnav was released from jail. But Arnav had been already dismissed from his secure government job on the grounds of his involvement and arrest in a criminal activity. Arnav could not find any other job in the market due to his past criminal record. No company was willing to hire a jail returned criminal. Arnav and his family fell into deep financial crisis due to his unemployment as he was the sole earning member of the family. Over and above the community and society also made Arnav and his family a laughing stock and insulted them for being jailed. No one was ready to even marry his younger sister Shobana as their family reputation was spoilt and Arnav was termed a wife beater. Everyone began to avoid Arnav and his family even though they had not committed any mistake in reality. Arnav was now left high and dry in life. He did not have any idea what to do with his future life and was left helpless. Arnav fell victim to chronic depression. He could not take this humiliation and constant taunts along with mounting poverty any more. He was a man who had self-respect. One night Arnav committed suicide in his bedroom by hanging himself from the ceiling fan. We were also deeply saddened by these consequences of our evil actions for what had happened to Arnav’s caring family altogether, but we had to keep mum for Aditi to win in life. "

"Meanwhile, Aditi was living a life of her dreams in USA with Ramesh. Aditi became pregnant with Ramesh’s child. But Ramesh family was very money minded. Being millionaires they expected Aditi also to live up to their standards. They hoped that the bride would bring crores of rupees along with her and add to their assets.  Ramesh and his family had straightforwardly demanded a 1 crore rupee dowry from Paresh Uncle before the marriage itself to which he had agreed.

But after the marriage, Paresh uncle was unable to afford such a big amount. Unfortunately, our friends & relatives who had guaranteed to loan us this one crore rupees backtracked without any indication. We were badly betrayed by whom we considered our own.

Ramesh and his family began to treat our pregnant Aditi very wickedly once we informed them that it will take a while to arrange this 1 crore rupees that we had promised. They began to ill-treat Aditi and torcher her. Ramesh would come home drunk at night and burn Aditi with cigarette buds. Ramesh’s mother had also beaten up our poor Aditi many times. Over and above all this Ramesh had a younger brother Rajesh. Rajesh had also begun to abuse Aditi openly. On many occasions he had also raised his hand on our princess Aditi in public and no one from their family ever came to the rescue of our daughter. Later we came to know that Rajesh had no full time job. He was roaming uselessly all day even at 26 years of age. He was an unemployed youth with many bad habits. He had a criminal track record and had also been arrested a few times in connection with many illegal activities like drug peddling, theft etc. while trying to make a quick buck. Rajesh was basically a hustler. In actuality he was the real loser. This 1 crore rupees when received from us was planned as the capital for him to set up a business. Aditi used to call us over phone and cry all night about both the daily physical & mental tormenting she is being made to go through by Rajesh and his family.

Then things got from bad to worse. Some traitor from India gossiped to Rajesh family about Aditi’s controversial past which we had hidden from them. News reached their ears that Aditi is a divorcee and was earlier the legally wedded wife of another man called Arnav. One of our haters who were jealous of our success had played this dirty game to ruin the life of our dear daughter.
After knowing that we had concealed the case of Aditi’s first marriage, Rajesh’s family began to unleash even more violence on Aditi. Parallelly they hired a private detective agency in India to find out the truth. This agency confidentially gathered all the details with evidence and put forth the truth before Rajesh. It was confirmed that he was the second husband.

On receiving this conformation, Rajesh straight away packed Aditi’s bags and sent her back to India to our house. They even suspected that the child Aditi was carrying was Arnav’s and not of Rajesh. "
"Now because of our greed, Aditi’s future was completely destroyed. She was also left pregnant out of this wedlock. They rightly say that what goes round always comes back. It is all Karma. Aditi was now as helpless as Arnav was. But Paresh uncle was still optimistic. Uncle was still hopeful that Aditi’s life can still be brought back on track. "

By this time, we both were weeping our hearts out on hearing what all pain Aditi had been through. Disha aunty’s dupatta was all wet with tears as though it was soaked in the heavy rain outside. You could easily squeeze out a bucket full of tears even from my handkerchief.

                                            **


Aunty's nose and mouth were by now blocked by mucus resulting from the continuous shedding of tears. Yet she again began talking with great difficulty taking deep lungsful of breath.
"Paresh uncle immediately put another paid premium advertisement on the same famous matchmaking website once again. But this time for a second marriage.

The short story continues here....