The Paradox of Choice : Choosing the best one, or the good enough?



Yesterday morning I read a brilliant piece in The Atlantic about Choice Overload. A peculiar phenomenon of our times where we have too many options- optimising that choice and selecting the best one suited to us is nerve-wracking. I wish I had read it before, I would have been a happier person at Japur Literature Festival over the last weekend.

After 7 years of ‘I-wish-i-could-go-to-JLF’, I was finally there. For three days, attending about 6-7 sessions or panel discussions each day. It was all great, you must have seen a countless number of articles about JLF floating everywhere, I won’t go deeper into it. But my mind was constantly in a dilemma. I couldn’t sit still in any one session, couldnt concentrate on what was happening and as per the new terminology, I was always having FOMO (Fear of missing out, you guys!).

Two days before going to Jaipur, I sat down with a printed list of sessions, googled the authors-speakers and highlighted those I wanted to attend. Before going, I knew exactly what I was likely to attend. My first morning at JLF began with the ethereal Swanand Kirkire singing O ri Chiraiyaa, Baanwara Mann and I was moved to tears on a cold winter morning while sipping the kullad-wali chai. I felt at peace and ready for the next 3 days of literary delights. In the next session Gulzaar saab released his book ‘Suspected Poetry’ and read a few verses. Thats when it hit me for the first time. 20 minutes into the one hour session, I started fidgeting. If Gulzaar saab was only reading the poetry out loud, I could just buy the book and read it myself. I should have rather attended the panel discussion on ‘Understanding Indian Aesthetics’. There was no way to leave that packed lawn venue, neither could I sit back and relish Gulzar’s baritone, his urgency of words, the composition and the pauses. I was berating myself for not choosing wisely and not having gone to some other session to begin with.


The same feeling kept creeping back throughtout the entire day. No matter what Mridula Koshi was saying about volunteering and her community library Deepalaya in Delhi, or when Shubha Vilas was explaining the difference between ananda and sukh, or when Nassim Nicholas Taleb was talking about disruptions and the black swans currently in the society, I was  frantically checking my printed list of sessions to see if I should leave this one and sneak into another session, or which one to attend next and so on. I was supremely exhausted at the end of the day. I wonder if it was from listening to so many peope in a day or from trying to be in many places at the same time.


Next morning I accidentally landed up in Nandana Sen‘s interactive book release, because I was drawn towards her. Her persona, how beautifully and articulately she speaks and how gorgeous she looks. There were about 15 kids on the stage with her and she read out from her children’s illustrated book – Not Yet!. Watching all those kids and her on stage made me miss my baby boy back home so much, that I decided to get that book author-signed for him and read it out aloud just like Nandana was doing. Jumping like a monkey, crawing like a crow – all inane acts but they filled me with joy. I was sure missing Chandrahas Choudhary moderating a discussion on how the page is mightier than the screen, but so what?! Monkeys and giraffes and little kids are way more exciting.

After that I grabbed a bowl of steaming hot Maggi and sat on the steps watching multicolored paper fans put up near the entrance. I was constantly telling myself – ‘Relax, be at ease. This is not a competition to hear the most ideas. Take in a few and let it sink in.’ And saying so I ran to hear the author Rob Schmitz read from his book ‘The Secret of Eternal Happiness’. Left it mid-way and ran back to hear Amitabh Kant talk about Incredible India. Oh the pains of having too many interesting things to do all once.

I thought something was wrong with me. Days like these where you can indulge in yourself are rare once you have a baby. May be I was trying to pack it all in, really did not want to miss out on a single minute. I wished I did not have so many options to begin with, I wished there was only one auditorium/lawn venue that you could attend for that day and you had to sit through it. Without any other alternative. And thats excatly what I did for the third day.

There were two beautiful lawns at the Diggi palace and the weather was brilliant, so I picked the lawns over sitting cooped up in an auditorium. Simple. I attended 3 sessions in each lawn, got the best seats since I was already there and got to hear a wide variety of topics. Some even outside my comfort zone. From demonetisation to nutrition of the girl child to the art of writing a novel and creating fiction. I was composed, took a lot of notes and generally felt much better. Inspired and confident.


A rollercoaster 3-day ride, it was difficult to articluate what was happening. Until I read the article from Atlantic. I was trying to be a “maximizer” trying to find the best session for myself. Instead it’s so much better to be a “satisficer”, select a good enough session and enjoy whatever is in front of you.

Different things work for different people, but I know for sure that this one works for me. How about you? Do you thinks it is okay to be a satsficer or is it essential to be a maximiser? Or as my father-in-law always says : “Yes and No. Depends.”




A promise to myself.


My writing table at mom’s house

I am constantly surrounded by a cacophony of sounds so much so that the thought of staying alone in my own house feels alien. Not that I loved being alone even before Arjun was born, but now with a little baby and working full time 5 days a week, moments of silence are hard to come by. My idea of solitude is limited to sitting in a corner of the room and perhaps doing some thinking, but the rest of the people need to be in the house. When there is nobody at home except me and Arjun, I take him out to the park or to meet relatives, friends. In a typical Indian joint-family culture, alone-time is never an option, and strangely I am glad for it.

But to write, I need to sit in one place and think and put those words out on a screen or a paper. So today when everyone was going out too attend a family function, I opted to stay at home and write. And all I could think of was my baby, the fight husband and I had last night, then all of the conversations I am missing out while I sit here in front of the laptop and everyone is chatting and laughing and doing all sorts of fun things someplace else. I admonish myself and get back to writing a short-story I want to send for a contest. It’s about complex relationships and family etc and thats when I start thinking about the stuff to pack for my brother-in-law who leaves tomorrow to go back home to Michigan. Palak parathas are to be made, oh wait, but do we have palak in the house? No, I should ask my maid to get some on her way. The almond pistachio cake I baked yesterday for him is slightly burned at the edges, I should bake one more. And my little niece, I have to get some chudidar and kurta and may be even some bangles for her. And so the list goes on and on. And while I stayed back home to write, all I am doing is not writing.

It makes me wonder if I am cut out for this solitary task which is writing. But reading those words on paper, which a few minutes back were only in my head – gives me pleasure. So may be I should write, albeit in different surroundings. When Arjun was born, I resumed writing in a month, as soon I had recovered from the shock of child-birth. Most of my blog-posts in the last 20 months have been typed on my iPhone notepad. Writing and scribbling while I am nursing Arjun or later feeding him roti-sabzi, making edits when I am trying to make him sleep, and publishing straight from he mobile app at times. The output has not been enough, not as much as I would like it to be. Then I tried the 10-minute technique. Writing non-stop for 10 minutes without pondering too much or without editing. The thinking part of that 10 minute writing happens when I am playing with Arjun , or in the shower etc. But all of that is not sufficient. If I want to call myself a writer (oh, how badly I want that), I should devote more time to it. Not be afraid of being MIA in some places because thats a conscious choice I am making.

I was talking to my aunt – who I whole heartedly admire – she has published 3 books in last 3 years, is an incredible mom to two teens – I realised that like any other craft, writing requires a lot of discipline. She is my aunt by marriage, and so I do not have her genes, but I have her guidance, which is valuable. And so I must sleep a little less, utilise my time efficiently and sneak in atleast half hour of writing every day. And that does not mean reading articles about writing or scrolling through Facebook for ‘inspiration’, but actually shooting out words which make sense.

In an article I read recently in The Atlantic, there is a line which says – ‘What aspects of life (a bigger family, marital stability) does the artist sacrifice for his work?’, I realised that being an artist entails sacrificing something. What and how much is each one’s to decide, but it is sure not a rosy path.

And thus, today onwards I will write each day. Pitch ideas to different publications, participate in online writing contests and write in my journal.

This is a promise I make to myself and as we tell Arjun – a promise is a promise is a promise.



A new role in life : Mentoring a 12 year old girl

MMI school

At the school with MMI mentors and mentees

I have a little piece of news to share with you.

A couple of months back, I interviewed to become a mentor for a 12 year old girl through Mentor Me India (MMI). I got selected, went through two induction programmes and soon a new relationship in my life began. I was nervous before the interview and really wanted to get selected. Then I was super anxious the day I met my mentee, Without any prior experience with kids that age, I bit my nails worrying if she would like me and I would like her. But the guys at MMI are awesome, they tried to match the mentor mentee pairs in such a way that we would have some common interests. I fell in love with my little young girl the minute I saw her. I am not romanticising it, but do you know that unexplained tug at your heart when you meet someone for the first time and feel a connection? This little girl, Gauri, came right towards me and held my hand. All my anxieties flew out of the window.

This mentor mentee program is designed on the lines of Big Brother- Big Bister program in various countries, where a brother mentors a young boy and a sister mentors a young girl over the course of minimum one year. These relationships go beyond a year once the mentor-mentee pairs get involved in each other’s lives. But the initial commitment is for a minimum one year. MMI ties up with schools working in low income communities and the school is the meeting ground for first few months. These mentees are from an economically poor background and most people around them are employed at unskilled jobs with very less or no education. To have a mentor in life is to have some didi or bhaiyya who can show them what they can achieve with right education and awareness of the world. With professional guidance from MMI team, I am sure all of us mentors can make some difference in the lives of these mentees.

Gauri and Rutvika

Left – Gauri’s drawing of me. Right – Me drawing her.

On the second day after I met Gauri for the first time, I got a call from an unknown number. It was her calling me from a PCO. She had taken my number but her dad doesn’t have a cellphone, so I didn’t expect she would call me right next day. She said that she missed me and was thinking about me a lot. I can say I miss you to someone only after careful deliberate preparation and here this little girl easily told it to me- her didi who was non-existent till yesterday. The enormity of the situation struck me. These girls and boys have hardly anyone who take an active interest in their life. Their parents, who are overworked themselves can provide the basic necessities, but hardly anything more. Sure there are exceptions, good and bad, but generally these kids are one among a lot and neglected most of the time. So when a didi/ bhaiyya seems to be interested in them, they are drawn like magnets. We were appraised about all of these factors at the induction and the MMI handbook is very handy, but in a real life scenario, you are on your own.

I told Gauri on the phone that she should concentrate on her studies and that I will see her the next weekend.

Cut to the next Saturday, all the little girls whose mentors were not going to come that day, or all those whose mentors were late even by 5 minutes, were crying. Literally crying with a flood of tears. The teachers tried to placate them, but still Ganga-Jamuna was free flowing from their eyes. The boys on the other hand tried to show how they were unperturbed and continued to monkey around. I was late by 15 minutes (Note to self : never to be late) and Gauri told me that she thought I would do ‘khaada’ which means an ‘unexplained absence’ in Marathi. I told her I would never do a khaada, if for some reason I am unable to come, I will tell it to her in advance. She accepted it, but oh how do I reach her since she does not have access to a cellphone?! God only knows. Thankfully, one MMI co-ordinator is always available on call to help me reach out to the mentee, so we will have it covered.

Last Saturday it was mentors-meet-parents day. I met her grandma, her mother passed away a few months back in an accident. When she told me about her mom, this little girl of 12, she was very upset. I was at a loss of words. I am a mother to a toddler and often have nightmares about being in an accident and imagining what my son would do without me. Even the thought makes me dizzy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am paired with this girl. Maybe I can understand her situation better, but pray tell me, how do you understand something that is your worst fear?

Her grandma has taken charge of the household since Gauri’s mom passed away. She spoke fondly of her daughter-in-law. Later they also took me to their home, a cozy, welcoming house with several photos of different gods stuck to the walls. 2-3 of her cousins, similar to her in age, came to ask me if they can get a didi and bhaiyya too. I told them that I am Gauri’s didi, but the school along with MMI can get them a didi/ bhaiyya.

It is wonderful being a part of something larger than our self and little circle of things. I hope the time we spend together can be of some value to my mentee and that we grow together.

Meanwhile, if you know how 12 year old girls behave, what activities they like, what stuff to do with them, good economical places to show them, will you let me know?

Thank you!


The Cheat Code

I met a friend for dinner last week. She has two little girls under 10 and is a very smart woman. She recently found out that her husband has been cheating on her for the last 4 years. With a woman he used to work with. Many a times in the past 4 years her husband used to be on an official “tour” and apparently he stayed with the other woman, in the same city where they live. My friend has been married to this guy for 15 years after dating him for a couple years in college. She is totally shattered, but also very angry. She feels cheated and feels really stupid that she did not find about it earlier. It felt bad to hear all this, but at the same time I felt relieved that she knows about it now and refuses to take his bullshit anymore.

And then the maid who works at my office. She is married for 5 years to a guy and few months back she found out that he has been already married since last seven years and has two children aged four and two. Do the math. All the while when they got married and started living together, he was already with his wife and married the whole time. The maid is unable to conceive and when her husband readily agreed to get tested, I was surprised. I couldn’t help think that he already had a child somewhere. But this guy beats up all logic. He has splendidly convinced the maid that he loves her. And was married to that other woman only because of family pressure. And that both the children, mind you, two times, were sheer accident when they were made to sleep together by his mother.

The fact that he has taken dowry in the first ‘arranged’ marriage has been ignored by my maid. The guy is not willing to leave any one of them, and keeps assuring my maid that he can’t live without her. And cherry on the cake – he even drank phenyl to commit suicide when she threatened to leave him. As you can guess, he survived very well and now has her undying devotion.

But it happens to the best of us. Previously, in my early twenties, for a few shoddy months, I dated a guy from work. He was already dating our mutual friend. I was so blind and such a idiot (I punch myself even as I write this), I could see daal mein kucch kaala, but I refused to believe it. He chased me with gifts and flowers and sweet words and I fell for it. He was quite a pervert. When we went out he would ogle at other women right in front of me. And still, this went on for a few months. How I hate that part of life. But sometimes you have to date terrible people to cherish the good things you have.

Back to my friend. her husband now tells her to forgive him. His excuse – ‘Everybody does it, only a few get caught.’ It is as if he is asking forgiveness for simply getting caught. She is adamant on divorce, but doesn’t know how she will manage two kids and all other practicalities by herself.

Of the things that I pray to god, first is to keep life interesting and second is that husband and I are never disloyal to each other. God cannot help in both these things, but my wish is sincere. Extra marital affairs really disturb me. When we were watching Bajirao Mastani (the movie) it kept troubling me that Mastani toh haat dhoke Bajirao ke peeche padi hai. Bajirao – a married man with children. Although I believe that this movie is way different from history, but something like this (even a movie, yes) leaves such a bad taste. It gives me nightmares.

I cannot imagine what my friend and maid are going through. One is the first wife and the latter is the other woman. Both loved deeply, one still does, but where does this lead them?

I don’t even know what to tell them, it is difficult to fathom what is the right thing to do in these cases. My father a retired Mumbai police officer has seen several such cases, I ask him what I should tell them if they ask for advice. He says “Each case is unique and delicate, but divorces based on alleged affairs result in long drawn-out cases and often in total denial by the accused. And this leads to no or or very little maintenance and alimony from him. Hard choices have to be made. Money or integrity.”

The local police NGO my friend went to bluntly told her to accept that man back and forgive him since he is admitting that he made a mistake. Because nothing works without money. If you need him to keep contributing towards raising the kids, do not file for divorce.

The idealist in me cannot adhere to this notion, but it is the truth. Ask around, you will know. Good education and standing firmly on our own feet is the only salvation for women. This cannot be stressed enough. But what about these two women? Only time will tell.


Come, lets share a story.


Come, tell me a story

When I was a young girl, I found it difficult to wrap my head around short stories. Stories which show a slice of life – the ones which have an open ending, where too much gets built up but too little gets solved. I couldn’t comprehend what happens next. May be life’s experiences were inadequate to make any sense of it on my own. But as years passed and I got married, became a mother, switched jobs and got a career, these open ended stories became fascinating. I could read, draw on my beliefs and conclude in any way that felt right at that moment. I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies once as a girl of 14 and now as a woman of 30 and they appear as entirely different stories to me. I distinctly recall thinking at 14 – why did the death of an unborn child lead to dissolution of a marriage? Why is the heroine of the story so upset that her husband and she don’t talk at dinner anymore? And so on. Seemingly simple stories, but I couldn’t understand the complexity of relationships and hence stayed away from that genre of stories. I preferred novels where you (mostly) know what happens in the end.

But now suddenly it feels as if the world has opened up. I have become hooked on to Sadat Hassan Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Gulzar saab. What beautiful people they portray. When I read those stories, it feels as if I walk into a party, talk to a dozen people. Intimate conversations about whatever is happening in their life right now, silently record it in my subconscious and then walk away with that knowledge. And then never see each other again. But that fragment of their life is lodged in me forever now, to draw on from them. For  inspiration and for comfort.

At the Goa Project in February, there was one session on storytelling. The conductor of the session Deeptha asked us to turn towards the person sitting next to us and tell each other a story for the next 5 minutes. How we came here in Goa, what is happening in our life as of now etc. I was meeting the girl sitting next to me for the first time but I don’t know if it was the anonymity of the situation or the human need to be heard, but I found myself telling her how it has been a difficult one year since the birth of my child. How it was the first time I had left him overnight and how I missed my boy terribly, but I was so glad for the two day break, I was going nuts. And in turn she told me that they are thinking of having a kid, but it feels like an enormous price to pay for freedom. Her husband wants a child and she is not so sure, and its complicated. The two of us sitting there reached a kind of meditative understanding of each other, we were like two sides of the same coin. I touched her hand assuringly to say that I know how she feels. And then that was it. Our five minutes were up.

Of course, there is Facebook now and we are friends there, but somewhere it feels that the sacredness of our stories is best preserved untouched. As if I read a page of her diary and she read mine. I don’t need to know what happens in her life later on, I don’t have more to offer but those 5 minutes were ours to share.

Last night we went to hear Naseeruddin Shah dramatically narrate Ismat Chugtai’s poignant stories. Stories of women set in the 1950s. One that haunted me in my dreams was titled Chui-Mui (Touch-me-Not). The narrators’ bhabhijaan is unable to deliver a child even after conceiving three times, and on a train journey they witness a peasant woman give birth in the train compartment unassisted and goes about to do her work and clean the mess as if it was routine for her. I have gone through childbirth and it literally feels as if a truck hit you. My mom took care of my and my newborn for 40 days after that and this peasant woman did not even have another pair of hands to cut the umbilical cord. I shuddered but thanked god for the support I had. Stories are meant to do that. Touch a raw nerve and soothe at the same time. To heal that which we didn’t think needs healing.

So next time if you meet me and I skip talking about the weather and the flood-drought situation and ask you something more personal, I promise I will share my own story too. Because as Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

May you have many stories to tell and many hearts to hold them.





Hopefully. Next time.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 9.11.09 PM

Times of India is having a contest called Write India where a prompt will be supplied for the next 11 months and a story has to be developed on those lines. I participated a couple of months back, I did not win, but it was great writing fiction. A short story. All of you who have ever wished to write, go on the link and participate. Writing fiction and short stories liberates me. Makes me live in the minds of someone I am not. 

Please note, this is purely fiction. Read and et me know what you think. 

Hopefully. Next time.

It all started three years back when the 18 week sonography was done. No wait, it all started the day they got married. His relatives said husband and wife are supposed to sleep apart from each other till the ‘Garbhadaan vidhi’ was completed. She found it odd, but her mother had told her that a new family would mean a new way of life. Customs differed. It did not hurt to play along. For that first night she had to sleep with her mother in law, whom everybody lovingly called Badi maa. But that was okay. The next morning the priest was called for an elaborate ritual and and they were permitted to be husband and wife. Aneel and Vibha. The first few months went by smoothly. They both resumed work after coming back from the honeymoon.  Each month her mother-in-law would ask her if she had missed her period yet. Every time she felt flushed when that question was asked and she tried to dismiss it , but the enquiry was persistent. Soon another priest was called and she was given Ayurvedic pills to be taken everyday. She complained to her husband that it was not essential, but he too insisted on it.

Finally one month, she missed her periods . She felt nauseated and light headed. While coming back from the office she got a home pregnancy test, and it was positive. Two pink lines. She waited for Aneel to announce the good news, and everyone was ecstatic. He mother in law immediately took an appointment with Dr Mrs. Mehra- gynaecologist cum family friend. Doctor confirmed that she was pregnant. Immediately they went to the temple and and made offerings to the God to bestow them with a son. She did not care. She just wanted a healthy child.

But that night Aneel took her in his arms and told her that he knew it is a son. Because all of them were real men and no one in their family ever had a daughter. She wondered what was the connection between being a man and fathering a daughter.

The next day onwards every morning a foul smelling concoction was poured in her right nostril by the house help Kamalbai. It was to beget a son. She resisted. It made her vomit, but it couldn’t be escaped. They told her to stop working. She assured them that she was fine. But never mind, she applied for a sabbatical and was granted one for a year.

Each day was the same as the earlier one. Herbal concoctions, threads of various deities and offerings to various gods. It was all the same. Boy boy boy. Her husband assured her that it was for the best. For a boy they wanted so badly. She cringed, but played along.

Then when she completed three and a half months, they scheduled an appointment for sonography. Her husband and mother in law accompanied her. She found that rather sweet. The doctor or the family friend said it was a girl. She was sorry.

Aneel told her that he will get an appointment for abortion for the next day. She did not understand. Her baby seemed to be doing well, then why was he talking about abortion? She tried to argue with him and with Badi ma, but nobody listened to her. She felt a wave of panic and nausea , but she was helpless. She cried and thought of ways to run away, but Aneel gently held her and told her to not worry. There would be a boy next time. Exhausted, she slept.

The next day it was over. She felt a hollow inside her. Her baby was gone.

Numbed, she just slept in her bed for several days. She used to think about those early times when she met Aneel. In Chicago -where they had both been sent for a month long training course. After work they used to sit in Starbucks for long hours. Away from the cold. In the midst of their conversations which went on for hours, she found him fascinating. An only child, he was well pampered but down to earth. He had four uncles and five cousin brothers, but he was the eldest. It was mostly a joint family system. They all stayed in the same building in separate flats. On the other hand, her father had shifted to Pune from their native place a long time back and it was just her parents and younger sister in their family.

When they decided to get married after courting for a few months, she met everyone in his family. They all seemed very warm and friendly. Except Meera aunty. She had a very melancholic look to her, she hardly spoke. Aneel told Vibha that Meera aunty had been silent and subdued ever since her miscarriage several years back. Vibha felt bad for her, but Aneel told her to stay away from Meera aunty.

The day Vibha’s baby girl was killed, Meera aunty tried to tell her something, but she was shooed away by everyone else in the family.

Slowly, Vibha recovered from the loss. Aneel took good care of her, but he kept telling her that they would have a boy next time. She started fearing him, worrying about what would happen if it was a girl the next time too. Aneel started having sex with her only on odd days. Some religious priest had told him that it was a key to conceiving a boy. Badi maa started chanting various hymns around her and advised them to conceive at auspicious hours or muhurats to guarantee a son. Vibha started living in constant worry. She did not tell any of this stuff to her parents, or they would have asked her to come back to their home. She just said that she miscarried because of some medical complication and that she would take rest and feel fine. Her mother kept on telling her to come to her house for a few days to rest. But she wanted to resume work and get over it as soon as possible.

Aneel was especially affectionate towards her. He would get her little gifts, take her out several evenings and often they would drive to Hornimon circle for her favourite latte in Starbucks. She felt may be what happenned to her was a stray incident. He will get around the fact that a daughter is equally cherished as a son.

A few months later, she missed her periods again. She knew she was pregnant. But she did not tell anyone. No one. Continued her life as if nothing had happened. She would hide the morning sickness, the light headedness and pretend to have her menstrual cycle each month. She wore loose fitting clothes and stayed by herself all day. But soon after the fifth month, her belly started showing. Badi maa and Aneel found out that she was carrying a child and they immediately took the doctors’ apponitment. Vibha clutched her heart tight and prayed that everything would go well the next day. She stayed awake whole night talking to the baby in her womb. Telling the baby that they would both survive this thing, together.

Next morning, the doctor said it was a girl but the pregnancy was too far ahead to do an abortion. They would have to induce labor and deliver the child, but a foetus would be unviable outside the mother’s womb at 22 months. Vibha was devastated. She was too weak to physically fight back. They gave her pitocin injection for inducing labor pains and delivered the baby girl. The foetus did not survive. Vibha’s world collapsed.

She was on bed rest for a few weeks. Her parents called her often, but she told them nothing of her pregnancy or the foetus or anything else.

Meera aunty tried to talk to her, but somebody would come and shoo her away.

Aneel started getting mad at her for not giving him a son. He sometimes used to lock her up in the bedroom during the day and often stayed out late night and then come and force himself on her. She dreaded the nights, she was afraid she might not get pregnant again, but was equally terrified of conceiving.

One evening, everyone had gone out for a wedding. Vibha felt too drained to go and hence stayed back home. She stumbled towards the balcony to get some fresh air and saw Meera aunty in the adjacent balcony. Realising that it was just the two of them there, Meera went to her cupboard, got a blue scarf, tied few of her gold bangles in it and rushed to see Vibha. She held the poor girl in her arms for a while, let her cry and sobbed with her. Meera aunty told her the story of her life, how she had conceived several times and each time the foetus was aborted because it was a baby girl. Finally her insides were so damaged, that she could not conceive any more, and hence remained childless for ever. Due to some old belief that a girl child will lead to the downfall of the family, they aborted all female foetuses and only let the males survive. Vibha was shocked, but her heart went out to Meera aunty.

Suddenly they heard someone come in at the main gate. Meera aunty took Vibha’s hands in her hand, gave her the blue scarf with the bangles and said, “When the time is right, run beta. Run for your life.”

Vibha quickly composed herself, tucked away the bangles in a small purse in the bottom of the cupboard. She started eating right and regained her strength. She was waiting for a good time to escape and go back to her parents.

A few weeks later, Vibha felt a wave of nausea wash over her. She waited for a few days and knew she was pregnant again. She did not know what to do. She wanted to save her child, but not raise it with that monster Aneel.

That night, Aneel came home drunk. He pushed Vibha aside and she slammed her elbow on the mahogany desk. He was furious with her, with his life and out of his mind. He started hurling abuses and kept hitting her on the face. Vibha knew she had to act quick. In the spur of the moment, she reached for the chef’s knife and stabbed him in the stomach. Twice. He fell to the ground grimacing in pain. Vibha went to the cupboard, picked up her purse,  ran down the stairs and took a taxi to Hornimon circle.

Her hands were trembling and her mind was fumbling. She called her parents in Pune and told them that she is on her way to their house and that they should avoid answering any calls till then, except from her cellphone.

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf and the gold bangles. Starbucks was where they started their journey and it was where it ended. She looked at the knife and her belly. Wondered how would the cold steel feel in her gut. For a brief moment she contemplating ending it all.

But she couldn’t. She loved her unborn baby and herself and her parents way more than she imagined. She had to be strong. She had to be safe and raise the child and teach him/her to be a good person. She hired a cab and reached Pune in a few hours before anybody could get to her. She was safe with her unborn child.

Back in Mumbai, Badi Maa found Aneel lying on the floor. He had passed out. She called his uncles and they took him to the hospital. His condition was critical but stable. He recovered and came home in due course of time.

For several months he did not contact Vibha at all. She did not press charges against him as she just wanted herself and her baby to be safe and away from all of this.

Seven months later, Vibha delivered a healthy baby. A baby boy. Aneel and Badi maa immediately came to see her and the baby. Aneel had tears in his eyes. Vibha cried too, for those two elder sisters this baby boy might have had.

Aneel refused to leave Vibha’s side. He apologised profusely for what he had done. Vibha did not want to see him, but she felt that the child should not be taken away from the father.

For six months Aneel constantly tried to persuade Vibha to come back home. All of his family members showered Vibha and the baby with lots of gifts and blessings. Her own mother said that may be she should consider going back as a child needs both his parents, and plus Aneel repented what he had done. Vibha did not believe what she heard.

The little baby boy started growing fond of his ever-doting father. Aneel was a very loving father and exceptionally caring towards Vibha and her parents. He visited them every weekend without fail.

Slowly Vibha started warming up towards Aneel. She loved her baby and wanted the best for him. May be she should give Aneel a chance. There wont be any redemption of his deeds, but there was definitely a promise of a better future. Now that she had given him a son.

She moved back with him in their house. With doubts and concerns, but determined to give her baby, Vikram, a good life.

Vikram is ten years old now. He will never find out what happened to his mother before he was born. Vibha can never forget her two baby girls but yes, she is willing to forgive. For Vikram. For a life together.

Rutvika Charegaonkar