How Blue is my Sapphire
Pradeep and Kiran had settled comfortably into their married life. But suddenly, one morning, they find Rakhi on the doorstep. Rakhi’s arrival jolts the very foundation of their marriage. Will their marriage survive this onslaught?
It was eleven on a typical Sunday morning. My wife Kiran and I - still in our pajamas - having sprawled ourselves luxuriantly on the sofas of our sitting-room, were poring over the Sunday editions of newspapers, the pages of some of which lay strewn about on the floor, thanks to Kiran’s penchant for separating four pages at a time from the main edition so as to not burden her delicate hands with the entire weight of the newspaper. Our empty coffee-mugs with the brown milk skins clinging onto their insides lay on the side-tables having been subjected to sniffs by Bonzo -our Pomeranian- who had instantly turned his nose up at them.
"Darling," Kiran began with an irritating chuckle, "It says here…as a result of a study that is… that men are happiest when they are sharing the household duties… So why don’t you turn over a new leaf and do the ironing and cooking for a change – from today itself?"
Annoyed at being disturbed in my tryst with Mrs Funnybones, I wanted to blow my top or, if not that, lodge a protest. However, realizing that the tranquility of a holiday was at stake, I took a deep breath and replied, "That’s because they realize that there are fewer arguments that way… It’s a way of brokering peace…"
"It says here that husbands feel guilty when they don’t do their share of the work…I doubt if that applies to Indian husbands and to you in particular, Pradeep."
That put me off. "And just what have we employed the maid for, Kiran?" I retorted.
It was Kiran’s turn to take umbrage. "Pradeep, you forget that it is I who supervise what she’s doing – including lending her two helping hands… But I don’t mind dispensing with her services if you’re willing to do half the household chores."
The ringing of the door-bell saved me from having to frame a reply. When I opened the door, I was shocked to find Rakhi standing there, her right hand firmly gripping the retractable handle of a trolley suitcase.
"Rakhi...I mean…how come?" I managed.
"Sorry…for landing…out of the blue…" Rakhi replied.
"Come on, Rakhi, you don’t have to apologize… Come in."
The moment she entered, Bonzo, barking his head off, came charging at her as though she were an enemy that had to be eliminated.
"Bonzo, come here!" screamed Kiran rushing to the door. She picked up Bonzo in one swift moment and took him away inside the house, hitting him and abusing him while she did.
Relieving a harried Rakhi of her suitcase, I ushered her in and after making her comfortable, went to fetch a glass of water. While coming back I saw Kiran returning saying, "Stupid dog… does not know how to behave... He’s so unpredictable…It’s embarrassing!" We could hear Bonzo barking, protesting at being locked up in a room.
I introduced Kiran and Rakhi to each other, informing Kiran that Rakhi was my classmate in college.
"You look so worn out, Rakhi…What’s wrong?" I asked her noticing her frail form, sunken eyes and hollow cheeks.
"What will you have… tea or coffee?" Kiran offered.
"Nothing at the moment… just had some breakfast at the Railway-station."
"Alright, you can join us for brunch a little while from now… Please excuse me…rather us… for being in our nightclothes," Kiran said with a laugh.
"On the contrary, it is I who should apologize for piling onto you unannounced."
"What brings you here? And by the way where do you live?" asked Kiran.
"I stay in Lucknow. I’m here to complete some formalities with the bank. You see, a few days back while going through some old documents, I came across a Fixed Deposit Receipt belonging to my father…He’s no more. He had made me the nominee. I got in touch with the bank here in Delhi. They said I’d have to complete a thousand formalities…you know how it is with things like this. It’s your money, but the bankers behave as though they are victims of a famine and you’ve turned up to snatch away a morsel that was given to them by a relief organization."
Kiran threw her head back and laughed. Rakhi looked at me and was disappointed to notice that I had only a hint of a smile on my lips.
To reassure her, I remarked, "What do they, I mean the bankers, do with all that money anyway, but give it to guys who they know will never return it?”
A few moments passed by in silence before Kiran glancing at both of us asked, "How come you both have not kept in touch? Or have you?"
"The fault is mine," Rakhi said, assuming an air of gravity.
"Rakhi, you seem to be in a mood to blame yourself for everything today," observed Kiran.
"No, really… I’m to blame for not having kept in touch with my classmates, my relatives, my friends…just about everyone in fact."
"Oh, come on, Rakhi…we are all busy living our own lives.Nobody is to blame," I interjected.
With a tremulous voice Rakhi said, "You’ve been very kind to me, Pradeep… I wouldn’t have spared you if you had done to me that what I had done to you."
Her words stung me like a whiplash. Kiran’s face registered a combination of bewilderment and apprehension. Rakhi was quick to clarify matters. "Kiran, I’m certain Pradeep has not told you this… But the fact is that we were engaged to each other…I broke off the engagement."
Rakhi paused to give Kiran sometime to absorb things. I would rather that she said whatever she had to in one go. "It was not as though something that Pradeep did was the trigger. Rather, I had bumped into a filthy rich guy at a friend’s place.He flaunted his wealth… All of a sudden, I had doubts as to whether Pradeep would be able to provide me all that luxury. The more I thought of it, the more I was convinced that with Pradeep I’d have to build a house brick by brick but with Rajesh… By marrying Rajesh I’d be walking into a castle. Someone has said that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac but for me, money was the greatest turn-on… I broke off the engagement…Even spreading the rumours that I’d seen Pradeep with another girl…"
Kiran gasped in disbelief. Rakhi nodded to confirm what she had said was true. She then continued, "So blinded was I by the thought of wallowing in the lap of luxury – of owning a fleet of cars…of going on Caribbean cruises and European holidays and whatnot – that I went full steam ahead in pursuit of my goal of hitching Rajesh. I ignored Pradeep’s desperate attempts to get in touch with me to try to get to know the reason for my having taken the drastic step. Poor guy, he wanted to know what his fault was and whether he could do anything to remedy it, which he obviously could not, unless he robbed a bank and then shot himself dead after handing me the money. I fought with my parents who tried to dissuade me from breaking off the engagement. They spoke of things like honour and morals and middle-class values… But their words were jarring. They sounded like cars honking nonstop in a traffic-jam or a mixer grinder working overtime, whereas the imagined sounds of crisp bank notes tumbling out of ATMs was music to my ears. So annoyed was my father with me that he said that I had failed him… But I couldn’t care… I was looking forward to settling down in a city I had never been to before, that is Lucknow. The first year of my marriage passed away with the rapidity and felicity of a sensual dream. I was caught up in a whirlwind of activity – setting up a home, throwing parties, attending various events, going on trips abroad… I was too immersed in this activity to even notice Rajesh’s absence when he was out on his monthly business trips…But then some rumours started trickling in…of another woman in another town. I pretended to laugh them off but was apprehensive. And then, after a few months I confronted him with clinching evidence. He was not ruffled. He said I was free to experiment too... said he believed in open marriages. I told him categorically that I didn’t and if he didn’t mend his ways, I’d have to walk out. He was furious but, in the end, endorsed what I’d said. A little later, I became pregnant…He was thrilled… rather acted that way, for in a few months he resumed his philandering ways…I had a miscarriage and left him soon thereafter…"
We had a quiet lunch and after that just lazed around surfing television channels. Both Kiran and I made several requests to Rakhi that she take an afternoon nap but she said that she never slept in the afternoon as, in her case, that was a sure-shot recipe for accumulating fat. Kiran and I were not so much concerned about Rakhi’s well-being as our own; we never ever missed our Sunday afternoon naps but we knew that today was going to be an exception.
We went out for dinner. Though the Red Chicken curry with sticky rice was heavenly, as were the rice noodles in coconut curry, I enjoyed them only partially for at the back of my mind was the apprehension of having to confront Kiran in the closed confines of our bedroom that night. All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am.....
When we returned home, Kiran bade Rakhi a perfunctory goodnight. After this, she attended to Bonzo. Then, once we were in bed, she did not waste any time in pouncing on me.
"Pradeep, you hid from me the fact that you had been engaged," she began, seething with rage yet not raising her voice for fear that Rakhi would come to know that we were having a fight.
"Kiran, I… I know…But my intention wasn’t bad, I swear…"
"And you conveniently introduced Rakhi as your classmate…Nothing more…"
"Kiran, how could I have said anything more? I mean I didn’t want to embarrass her…"
"But cheat me you did…by not disclosing a significant detail of your past."
"Come on, Kiran…Would that have altered your decision to marry me? Besides, I never asked you about your past…"
"Pradeep, you know that’s not the point!"
"Oh, come off it, Kiran…It was not as though we were in a relationship or something…"
"Pradeep, are you saying that to console me?"
"Kiran, I’m sorry for my mistake…"
"Mistake! You call cheating me a mere mistake? And that woman Rakhi! What a fool I was to rush to her rescue when Bonzo went at her… She probably deserved it. Dogs have a sixth sense you know…" She shook her head and paced up and down the room for a few moments. Then with her hands akimbo, she confronted me again. "By the way, Pradeep, did you give her an engagement ring?"
"I…Yes, I did," I answered meekly as though owning up to a murder.
"I’m curious to know what it was."
"A blue sapphire…But she didn’t return it."
"What do you mean she didn’t return it? And, you didn’t ask her for it?"
"Should I have?" I asked gingerly.
"The hell you should have! She slapped you on one cheek and you offered her the other…But you wait…Just you wait…I’m going to raise the issue tomorrow morning…"
"Kiran, you will do nothing of the sort…I mean...I mean let us not stoop to such low levels…"
"You are a bloody coward, Pradeep…And I get the feeling that you still have feelings for her."
She broke down while saying the last sentence. My efforts at consoling her met with stiff resistance. At length, she shoved me away and turning her face to the wall, switched off the light.
The next morning, I got up at my usual time of half-past-six. Kiran was sleeping; I thought it unwise to wake her up. As it is, normally the maid’s ringing the door- bell at seven served as her alarm-clock. After brushing my teeth, I went to make tea. The door of Rakhi’s room was open. I peeped inside. Rakhi was not in. Probably, she’s in the drawing-room I thought. But she was not there, nor in the kitchen. Was she in her washroom by any chance? I checked that by knocking on the washroom door and then realized that it was open. Nobody was inside. I then noticed that her suitcase was not there in the room. Cursing myself for not having taken her mobile phone number from her, I went to the drawing-room once more.
I suddenly noticed an envelope on the centre-table. There was a note inside in Rakhi’s handwriting
My apologies (and these will be the last) for having caused you such a lot of embarrassment by having revealed that we were engaged, as also by landing up all of a sudden, as also for leaving without informing you… After completing the formalities with the bank, I’ll be leaving for Lucknow. I know you will never be able to forgive me for what I have done to you. Or perhaps you already have. You are a better person than I can ever hope to be.
Pradeep, I will always regret the fact that because of my stupidity I put paid to all our plans of spending a lifetime together. And what a blissful life that would have been! You know, I had insisted upon your giving me a white gold blue sapphire engagement ring if and when you proposed to me. How presumptive of me –and childish! But I had consulted an astrologer. He had advised me to wear a blue sapphire. It would calm my senses as also protect me from the evil eye he had said. That’s why I did not give it back to you when I broke off our engagement… But now I am returning it to you. I have realized that I can do without it.
All the very best my only true love!
I looked inside the envelope. The ring was there. The blue sapphire looked more resplendent than ever. How would Kiran react to all this? The question both perplexed me and daunted me.