Three knots in wedlock
The sky had turned grey when she headed home from office. By the time she reached her apartment, it started to drizzle. Dedeepya hastily got into the elevator thinking about the clothes that were hung on the clothesline. She rushed towards the balcony and took them out just in time before the rain gained momentum. She looked into her children’s bedroom and missed the everyday squabble that she met with as soon as she stepped inside the house. Roshan and Advaita had gone to their grandparents’ home in Hyderabad for Dussehra. She and Shrikanth would be travelling just before Vijayadasami. Dedeepya made herself a cup of tea and sat in the balcony that oversaw the National Highway. She could see Kantha on the other side of the road trying to cross but the line of vehicles passing to the de-facto capital city of Amaravati seemed to be an impasse.
“Madam, it’s easier to go to my mother’s house than cross this highway,” Kantha said, tucking the pleats of her sari and quickly setting about to do the evening chores.
“This time I am going to deduct from your salary Kantha. One week of absence is too much,”
“Ayyo. What to tell you madam? I had to make regular visits to the police station for the whole week.”
“My Rambabu is going to another woman in the basti and I caught him red handed.”
Kantha was accusing her husband of adultery, at the same time, enjoying the status of being married.
“But why police station?” Dedeepya asked, handing over the empty tea cup.
The crockery clanged and clinked while she washed them. After moments of self-talk, she said, “He doesn’t earn a single paisa and gets drunk everyday with the money I give him.”
Kantha flitted to and fro setting the dishes in their places while her tinkling toe-rings caught Dedeepya’s attention. They were beautiful and bigger unlike her thin ones.
“Do you expect me to do his puja? How will I raise my kids? How will I alone pay their school fee? I don’t want them to drop out of school like me.” Kantha paused and looked at her employer in anticipation, expecting a response.
“Then why don’t you leave him?”
“Arrey Madam, it’s not that easy. I have families behind. If you were in my place, would you leave?”
Dedeepya withdrew from the conversation. She quickly rummaged through the vegetables in the refrigerator as if frantically searching for the answer Kantha had put.
Ever since the three knots with the turmeric smeared thread were tied around her neck on the wedding day, she had felt the waves of her gruff, domineering husband who was the ultimate decision maker in the household affairs. He hadn’t abused her physically, yet there were traces of emotional injury that lurched around her every now and then making it implausible to make up for the loss. She wished she was loved and cared for.
“Madam, will you bring the fairness cream for me tomorrow?” Kantha asked chopping the carrots for the next morning’s cooking.
She didn’t feel the need to explain that she worked in the newly shifted corporate office and that the factory was in Hyderabad. She decided to buy one from the local store. All Kantha knew was that her employer worked for a company that manufactured beauty products and that it wasn’t difficult for her to get one fairness cream.
After Kantha left, Dedeepya sat in rumination thinking about Abhiram, the Managing Director of Confidante where she worked as a Senior Manager. His wife, Naina was the Chief Executive Officer. Abhiram mostly looked after the factory in Hyderabad and visited the corporate office once a week. He was the most dignified person that she had ever met. At times, she felt diffident in his presence for his stupendous knowledge and wisdom about the world. His wilful desire to make beauty products without or very little chemicals made the products popular among the users. Dedeepya held him in high regard and adulated him for being a treasure trove of knowledge.
Naina had been on a business trip to Australia along with the Chief Operating Officer, Rajeev. They were rumoured to be in a relationship. Maithili, the Accounts Manager was privy to their affair and divulged the news to Dedeepya. It was during this time that Abhiram often visited the corporate office to manage people in Naina’s absence. He showed exceptional interest in his Senior Manager. Every time he looked at her, his eyes spoke more to her than words.
She recalled her conversation with Abhiram in the afternoon.
“I’ll be travelling to Chennai, the day after. Will you come with me?”
“I am not sure, Abhiram. I need to ask Shrikanth. In any case, I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Deep inside, she felt happy thinking of how she was going to spend her trip with her boss.
In Melbourne, Naina was all by herself and seemed euphoric, enjoying every moment with Rajeev. They had just returned from the Arts Centre after watching a theatre performance. It was then that he knelt before her inside the hotel room in which they were going to stay for the next two weeks. Rajeev took out a diamond ring. Looking into Naina’s eyes, he said the three most magical words, ‘I love you’.
Dedeepya woke up in trepidation. Shrikanth had given his consent without any arguments. It was unusual about him, for whenever she showed interest in doing something, a hundred questions cropped up from his side and this instant approval led her into a quandary.
When the flight landed at Chennai, Abhiram revealed that there was no scheduled business meeting but that they were going to Kodaikanal to spend time together. Her heart missed a beat and she did not stop herself. She knew Abhiram loved her as much as she did. When they reached Kodaikanal, they checked into an international hotel that suited Abhiram’s standards. Dedeepya was restless because she knew what would happen once it was dark. After a wild path tour throughout the day, they went back to their hotel. After dinner, she bathed and draped a sari that she loved wearing when she had felt romantic. Abhiram came closer and felt her heart beat rapidly.
“You look gorgeous!”
She blushed, looked into his eyes and felt an urge to express her love for him. When he pulled her towards him, she said, “I love you.” He smiled coquettishly which made her feel piqued. She expected him to repeat the three words but put off the idea for some time telling herself that once she gave him all the love that hid within her deep inside, Abhiram would reciprocate to her love. She kissed him on the forehead. Once their lips met, she felt like heaven. Abhiram precipitated and though it wasn’t gratifying, Dedeepya didn’t feel disheartened. They were going to spend two more days in Kodaikanal. Abhiram got out of the bed and slumbered into a deep sleep on another. She let out an incredulous gasp and stumbled as she moved towards him.
“Abhi,” she called out and shook him.
He turned around and gazed at her. She could sense a tinge of exasperation on his face in the dim light.
“Do you love me?” she asked.
“What is this Dedeepya? We need to get up in the morning.”
“Answer me now Abhi,”
“I don’t understand what you mean by love,” he moaned irritatingly. Holding her hand, he said, “It was a mutual consent.”
Her eyes became moist and welled up, letting out irrepressible tears of remorse. The next morning, while Abhiram was still asleep, she quickly dressed up and scurried towards the airport.
After Naina returned from Australia, she could sense that Rajeev was distancing himself from her. Soon after, the Chief Operating Officer had ultimately turned hostile. He let out Confidante’s secret formula for the fairness cream that had gained popularity among the masses to a competitor. Naina was dumbstruck when she heard the news. She felt cheated because she was the one who shared the secret with him. To heal herself from the indignation and to forget Rajeev, she went to holiday at Bali with two of her best friends.
Dedeepya returned home. As she came out of the elevator towards her flat, she saw Kantha’s chappals outside on the shoe rack. Shrikanth was also at home. She never expected Kantha while she was away. She hesitated to ring the bell and took out her spare key and slowly opened the door. She plodded towards her bedroom and there they were, Shrikanth and Kantha. She retracted her steps and darted out of the room leaving the door ajar.
She found solace in Maithili’s company.
“Don’t get into a guilt trip now. It does happen.”
Tears plummeted down her cheeks and they seemed to be unstoppable.
“Look at Naina. After she returned from Australia, she discovered Rajeev's true colours. She is retreating and holidaying in Bali now. I am sure she’d return quite happy.”
“Naina can afford to that Maithili.”
“You are no different Dedeepya,” she argued.
The next day, Dedeepya left home only to find quite shockingly, Roshan, Advaita and her parents.
It was Shrikanth who had called them, convincing them to celebrate Dussehra at Amaravati. He had presumed that Dedeepya knew about it and decided to mitigate the issue without any delay.
Kantha came in the next morning draped in a new chiffon sari.
“How was your trip, madam?” she asked without looking into her eyes.
“Not bad. Hurry up Kantha. I need to go to the police station.”
“But why, madam?”
“Why did you go?”
“That was when Rambabu slept...” her voice trailed off.
Kantha fidgeted with the spoon in her hand and then raced out of the house never to return.
Dedeepya looked at her children playing caroms with their grandparents. Shrikanth didn’t dare to look into her face. She consciously made a mistake but like Naina, she cannot afford to go on a holiday after heartbreak or like Kantha, she cannot leave her job immediately after the truth is out. She knew she wouldn’t take an imprudent decision and ruminated on the intricacies of life along with the possibilities of reconciliation with her inner self. She couldn’t forget what had happened but knew that time would heal everything.
Till then, she gave undue attention to herself and her family. Gradually she made it a habit and thus began finding joy in it.