Mantu woke up with a start, she had dozed off after her alarm rang. She hadn’t switched on the geyser, she ran towards the bathroom cursing her stupidity, Pratap will be very angry, the water temperature had to be perfect for his bath. She tiptoed around his room and took out his clothes and hurried in to the bathroom to keep them the way he liked, she took his dry slippers and kept them outside the bathroom looking furtively towards his bedroom door, thank fully, there was no sound.
Mantu relaxed a little and went to kitchen to prepare for breakfast, she needed to get a lot done before Pratap made his way down.
‘Oh my god, the bannister is covered with a sheen of dust. I shouldn’t have opened the windows yesterday.I better get dusting before Pratap finds out,' she scolded herself tucking in her saree and reaching for the dusting cloth. She winced and rubbed the nasty bruise on her waist. Occasionally she missed Bhola, their servant, but Pratap had wanted him out
‘What do you do all day? Empty mind is a devil’s workshop. Do the household tasks make your contribution to the family.’ He had thundered.
Bhola was very upset, he had begged Pratap falling on his feet.
'I have been with Didi ever since she was a baby Dada, where will I go? What shall I do? Let me stay and help Didi’ He pleaded, but as with most things Pratap was determined. When Mantu pointed out that she had a full-fledged job Pratap flew off the handle
‘You are a spoilt selfish bitch, do you think I want to eat from the money you earn?’ he bellowed and stormed out. When he didn’t return at night, Mantu had called her mother-in-law in panic. She had given Mantu an earful about how badly she behaved, ‘I knew you were an uncouth, modern woman with no traditional values, I told Pratap not to marry you. But no he was in love! Look where it got him. He cares for you and you kicked him out of the house?’ She had wept into the phone with frustration.
Feeling terribly guilty Mantu had pleaded with Pratap to get back home. He was compassionate enough to return, ‘I forgive you Mantu,’ he had said. ‘Don’t make me angry again. All I want you to do is to take care of my house personally, I want to feel your touch in every aspect.’ He had smiled sweetly looking into her eyes and made slow love to her and kissed each bruise he caused her. So, Bhola had left bag and baggage and she buckled up and got down to work juggling both home and work.
‘Shee, I was so immature at the beginning, no wonder Pratap was always angry at me,’ she shook her head to pull herself out of her reverie and hurried to open the door before the person outside rang the bell. She had trained her ears to the slightest noise, anything which could potentially disturb Pratap’s sleep or his concentration. She broke into a sweat at the mere possibility of this happening, panic flooding her at the mere thought of the wrath that her husband will unleash if woken up like this.
‘Bibiji, kya badbu aa rahi hei ghar se?' (What is the bad smell that’s coming from the house) The dhobi sat down and gave Mantu ironed clothes. Mantu looked over her shoulder to see if her husband was charging down, Pratap didn’t like her talking to anybody.
‘Dheere bolo...’ (Speak softly) She murmured before deftly handling him and sending him on his way.
'Was the house really smelling? Oh god she needed to do one more round of sweeping and mopping.' Mantu returned with the clothes upstairs and hurried back down to make breakfast, she was already late. She winced as she traced a scar on her upper arm, which had bore the brunt of his wrath a couple of times due to delayed food. It served her right, didn’t she know after being married for so many years that Pratap couldn’t tolerate hunger? And before that she stupidly let his food get cold once he was back from his walk.
Lost in thoughts she quickly finished cooking and got down to tackle the dust, grimacing as her arthritis laden fingers refused to move, she almost laughed out loud at the irony of it, once she was paid to get this done. She had studied Fine Arts from Delhi University and joined the Historical Society of India as an intern, soon she was part of the restoration team, dusting and making art shine was her forte.
She still remembered how uncomfortable she was when Pratap’s family had visited her, always in jeans and overalls her mother had forced her into wearing a saree. When she tried to walk in with a tray of snacks, she had tripped on her saree and it had come undone revealing her jeans underneath. Ma was furious but Pratap, he had laughed and called her spirited. She was embarrassed but couldn’t take her eyes of Pratap’s beautiful face. Before the Mehta’s even reached home they, Pratap had said yes. Ma was right, she was so lucky to get a handsome, smart guy like Pratap. She was on cloud nine when her wedding was fixed and they were married after a few short weeks, Pratap didn’t want to spend a day apart!
She loved her job, but she loved him more. He was always annoyed at her frequent travels.
‘You don’t spend enough time with me, how can you expect us to start a family if you are always away.’ Over the first few months the fights between her and Pratap increased many folds. Between work and house, Mantu used to be always tired and their sex life was affected, frustrated he had accused her of having an affair.
‘I don’t think you are interested in me anymore, that Samar is keeping you satiated, isn’t he?’ He had banged her head against the bed’s head board one day, when she had refused to have sex one evening. She should have quit much earlier, maybe that’s why Pratap was so disappointed in her. She neglected family and her responsibilities, no wonder he thought she was so selfish.
Her mobile vibrated, she immediately rushed to pick up knowing it was Sia their only daughter.
‘Ma, where is Baba?’ Sia asked without preamble, her voice sounded distant.
‘Sleeping. Why?’ She wanted to talk, tell her so many things but she kept quite.
‘Mr Patel is looking for him, he tried to call his mobile a couple of times but it is saying switched off,’ Sia continued.
‘The phone might have ran out of charge. He has been sleeping for long.’ Mantu responded
‘Okay, tell him once he wakes up. And for god’s sake give Patel your number. I can only do so much from Mumbai.’ Sia was annoyed, she avoided home as much as she could, but Patel was the family lawyer.
‘Why to make your Baba more upset Sia?’ Mantu looked at the bruise next to her eye which had now turned black.
‘Yeah, whatever Ma. Bye.’ Sia ran off
Mantu stood next to the phone remembering Sia’s little fingers wrapped up around hers when she was sent to boarding school at the age of 5. She had cried gallons of tears in bathroom, she knew it was futile to argue with Pratap. He loved Mantu with such abandon and she couldn’t even give him the boy that he asked. So letting Sia go was her punishment. After Sia, she couldn’t get pregnant again, they tried for so many years yet somehow she couldn’t get her body to fall pregnant. She had failed Pratap once again. He was right, Sia shouldn’t be brought up by a failure like her, so she was sent to boarding school and then to engineering college and now she had a family of her own. During holidays, Pratap would plan elaborate trips taking her to fabulous places leaving Mantu to deal with the consequences of being a failure in life, he was really the perfect father.
A loud knock at the door bought her out of memory lane, she hurried to the door wiping her eyes. A policeman was standing at the door.
‘Mam, I am Inspector Kamble. The neighbours complained…’ the Inspector began before his eyes widened at her sight and he pushed Mantu and entered inside.
‘Inspector, my husband is sleeping please don’t scream. And please take off your shoes, my husband doesn’t like shoe marks on the carpet,’ Mantu followed the Inspector up the stairs.
‘Where are you going? Don’t wake up my husband he hates to be woken up.’ She tried to grab his hand before she went into Pratap’s room. The policeman paid no heed and continued talking on his walkie-talkie loudly.
‘Yes, male about early 50s, body beginning to decompose. Has been dead for atleast 48 hours, could be more...’ suddenly pain seared through his head and he fell down with a loud thud blood rushing out of his head.
‘‘Do not wake him up I said, he is sleeping,’ Mantu walked out after wiping the bronze statue and replacing it carefully.